Thursday, 16 June 2011

I don't watch much TV... fact I don't watch a lot that isn't pure text. But in the last week I've watched three things that have made me nearly cry.

The first is predictable...I watched Agora for the first time, and given how long I have been in love with Hypatia and her is unsurprising that the film was effective. Of course it wasn't her overly romanticised death that made me want to weep. It was the burning of Library of Alexandria. Did the Christians really burn all the knowledge of the Classical world; in one huge conflagration? The 4th Century sources are not clear on the matter. But their lack of passion as they describe the various sackings should not be any great indicator of how large or small the disaster was - the deaths of Luxembourg and Liebknecht takes only a few lines in the German sections report to the Comintern - and in its time it was an event of similar significance...

Burning books makes me want to cry. Monotheistic bigotry makes me want to cry. The horror of the loss of all that wisdom and poetry; the plays, the poems, the astronomy, the mathematics..that makes me want to cry. What the film's director failed in was making me want to cry for Hypatia and the dreadful human pain of her death. Hypatia; pagan, philosopher, mathematician, teacher; was intransigent. Pursued by a suitor, the story goes, she threw him rags stained with her menstrual blood and told him that this was woman, if he loved this then he loved corruption. Harsh but direct. Needless to say, she never married. But she was brilliant and she was torn to pieces by the Christians, on the steps of their church for not being the passive vessel they thought woman should be. That makes me want to weep. Agora's soft, romantic cop-out does not.

And that's because real, human pain is not pretty.

The second thing this week, that made me want to cry was Chris Lilley's Angry Boys. And its not the moment you expect. Its Daniel, distraught, face-down on his bed, weeping because his mother is going to re-marry. Chris Lilley has been able to make me feel empathy with an aggressive, homophobic, racist little boy; whose heart I felt breaking.

The third time...ah...predictable. Shane Mcgowan was singing Rainy Night in Soho. I looked at his 1988 face and thought "By God Shane, but you were the the most magnetic, absorbing, exciting man alive right then." And neither you nor I will ever be that young again.

Real. Human. Pain. Nothing like it to remind you you're alive.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

If I could have the perfect Hamlet...Pt.1

So ever since I heard Simon Phillips had talked Ewen Leslie into doing Hamlet for him I've been making this list...
I've been making it because I have a very clear idea in my head what Hamlet should be like and I'm waiting for someone to get it just right. I like Zefferelli's Hamlet - Gibson is manly, tough - the solider and the courtier that Ophelia describes him as in the original text. Though I'm not sure if I buy him as the scholar too. Its hard to get right.
And by the gods I like the Royal Shakespeare Company using Dr Who...I mean David Tennant. Mr Tennant is not immediately obvious as a good choice for the role. But by the time he's gone just a little mad and had the chance to turn on his androgynous and somewhat unexpected sex appeal...I'm lapping it it were.
Tennant seems to understand something about Hamlet that I would have thought was obvious. He's hot. That's why clever, sassy women like Ophelia (and his mother...) are so enamoured of him.

So my wish list; my open letter to Mr Phillips goes like this...

Dear Mr Phillips,

I am in love with Hamlet, please don't ruin him for me...
If you could just follow these simple instructions I will be forever in your debt.

1. Please, dear god, do not make Hamlet a fop. He's not a fop. And he's not a mummy's boy either. Was Oedipus a Mummy's boy? No he was not! He was a sphinx-conquering, father-killing sonofabitch. And don't you forget it. So don't you dare make Hamlet a limp-wristed motherfucker. Well. Ok. He can fuck his mother if you want, but not limpwristedly...

2. Do not, under any circimstances, give Mr Leslie a die-job or a haircut. All that floppy black hair is why we love him. And its why we will love him as Hamlet. Hamlet in sable. It makes sense. You know it does. Gibson looked odd blonde. Olivier looked VERY odd blonde and we all know Brannagh was just trying to look like Olivier. So just forget the blonde Prince of Denmark. Most Danes have dark hair anyways...

3. To be mad or not to be mad...that is the question. I want my Hamlet mad only in craft. And not in kind. I like a little extremity, a little excess. But I want someone whose noble mind has not been overthrown. Don't get me wrong. He needs to be brutal, desperate, and calculating. Send those schoolfriends to their ignomious deaths - Do it Phillips! But do it with a sure hand and cool head.

4. I loved Ophelia. And so should Hamlet. And I had better believe it when he says it. Because if I don't then I can't believe he'd put her through what he does and still love him.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Crying, over atheist talks to god.

The nice man sitting next to me at the theatre on Saturday night had an odd look on his face when I mentioned I'd seen the play only a couple of weeks previously - and from almost exactly the same seat. It was that uncomfortable look people give the baglady on the tram - not wanting to offend; hoping the conversation won't continue; embarrassed either way.
It was the second time that day that I'd had looks like that. Earlier, standing in the Museum of Contemporary Art I had felt the whole room quieten around me. I was standing in front of Annie Lebovitz's extraordinary portrait of her dead friend - Susan Sontag. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation; maybe it was the overload of images - I don't know - but there were silent tears running down my cheeks and I felt no need to wipe them away.
The photo is a bizzare one. It is of Sontag's laid out corpse, broken into several individual shots, then pasted together - as if it were of a landscape. And in a way it is. The landscape of a life; a love; a journey. All captured in a photo of an old woman, grey haired, shrivelled, dead.
The portraits of the still-living Sontag are almost as moving. Naked, sprawled across a bed or lying, feet over the back of the couch. Maybe its just me but those are the shots I found the most intrinsically erotic. Sure Johnny Depp and Kate Moss in bed are pretty damn hot - but not as essentially, stomach-tighteningly sexy as the lover caught in a moment of total naturalness.
I think now that all of us are searching for that moment when we think we are indeed talking to our god. The problem is, he is not listening; he is dead. On my knees, in the rain...begging some god to listen...all I hear is the sound of drops of water on leaves; my own heart, beating, hard, in my ears.
There is no one other than ourselves to absolve us of our sins. And it is the sin of intention which is all. Abelard and Heloise were right and when I meet them both in some atheistic hell, we will embrace; brothers and sisters in a knowledge; full knowledge, of all that we commit.

Monday, 28 February 2011

In Defence of Angry Women Pt 3

The Furies are snake-haired, dog-faced and bat-winged. They are full of hyphens. An ugliness that defied their description in the ancient world – they were called Eumenides – bringers of justice – because their bronze-tipped flails were too horrible to contemplate.
They punished the most horrible of crimes – parricide and perjury.
It makes you think.
Killing your parents is right up there with lying.
Those ancient Greeks were fond of making their most fearsome monsters and deities, female. Scylla; the Gorgons: the Fates; the aforementioned Furies. They had a deep, in-built fear of the female.
Hesiod tells us that woman was made as a punishment for all human kind for the gift Prometheus made us of fire. Of course given Zeus; the constructor of said punishment; was himself a prodigious womaniser; one wonders if he was totally truthful in the whole “I'm only making her to punish those naughty mortals” story that he told his ever jealous wife Hera.
Truth is a slippery concept. I don't know if the ancients anthropomorphised Truth in the same way they did almost every other force or idea that impacts on the lives of us mortals – but if they did it would have been the nasty, slimy, long entrail of a particularly lecherous giant. Such, I think, is the nature of truth. It takes a long time to unfold; it slides through your fingers unpleasantly and if you split it open; it stinks.
As last week's post will attest I've just seen one of the great plays written about truth...Ibsen's The Wild Duck. No need to re-visit last week's fangirl slatherings here and no need to further contemplate why I might have been pondering the concerns of said play; suffice to say – its been on my mind.
This morning I read an interiew with a woman in her early 30s, Emma Forrest. She's an author and a journalist – and someone who appears to have made a career out of being a particularly self-conscious self-revealator. She takes the opportunity in the 400 or so word article to tell us first about her bulimia; then about her disastourous attraction to addicts and alcoholics; about her numerous (and I do mean a very, very large number of) failed relationships and her attraction to phyically imperfect men. I was, I suspect, not the only one, finishing my Sunday morning coffee and toast, dusting the crumbs off the sheets and thinking “Emma, love, TMI”.
She's just one of the many, may I venture too many, people making a living out of telling us just a little more than we really want to know about someone we don't.
That great philosopher of our generation; or at least my generation: Agent Mulder, thought the truth was out there. I tend to think right now, its just a little bit too out there.
Ibsen in his idealistic younger years wanted people to have truth in their relationships. He wanted people to know one another fully and intimately so they could be full and equal partners. When he's writing The Wild Duck; he's writing with a very different idea in mind.
Ibsen was fascinated by the maelstrom – the huge whirlpools in the sea off Norway – wild, unforgiving nature. I just saw Derek Jacobi's King Lear – unaccomodated man has never been so witty, so rational and therefore so moving. Let me remind you of the lines:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, and germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

I thought I had heard them so many times that I could not find them new or fresh or more truthful. Jacobi whispers them, barely audible in the tiny DONMAR theatre, barely audible to the audience at the live screening in Nova cinema. I'm having to lean forward in my seat and almost read his lips.
Its still the piece of poetry that for me sums up that moment of the full recognition of ourselves as tiny, insignificant ingrates in the eyes of the gods. Later Gloucester, in the long tradition in tragedy of the blind who finally see the truth, pronounces that damning indictment on the human condition:

As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport.

It is a terrible, brutal play with a terribly brutal ending. I have never wept so much for Cordelia as I wept with Jacobi's Lear and the horror of utter defeat.
Truth; the truth of our own mortality; our humble position in the turning of the orbs is confronting and it is painful. Ibsen isn't dealing with the same grand themes that Shakespeare throws about the stage in King Lear. Ibsen's tragedies are the falls of small people; people like you and me. When I watch Hjalmer in his homespun cardy or Hedvig in her school uniform; I'm no less moved than when Lear staggers on-stage crushed; yes, crushed; by the weight of his daughter's death.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Third time lucky

There's a point somewhere near the middle of Simon Stone's re-working of the Ibsen classic, The Wild Duck, when Gina (Anita Hegh) is alone on stage. The lights are blazing and the music is almost unbearably loud. Seconds earlier her husband of 16 years, Hjalmar Ekdal (Ewen Leslie) has stormed out. She is distraught, her pain almost unbearable to watch. Somewhere around there I know I whimpered and the woman sitting next to me turned to check I was ok. This is what really good theatre should do.

In the moments before, Gina and Hjalmar wrestle on stage; she pressing him into the wall, begging with her whole self, that he stay. Its intensley private; an awful, painful, uncomfortable moment of absolute physical distress. And I'm watching it all, through one-way glass, not even a metre from the now quite literal fourth wall.
There are more such moments to follow. I know my breathing matched his, as Leslie's Hjalmar shakes with rage and grief. Its so low-key, in fact so barely palpable I'm not sure if it was even visible from further away; but its horrifying to witness. This is what a really good actor can make you feel.

Its no secret that I'd pay to watch Ewen Leslie read the phonebook. And now none that I'd travel 2000 kms in less than 24 hours just to see him on stage for 90 minutes. But Stone's Wild Duck delivers much more than just putting Mr Leslie within touching distance of this particular fangirl.

This play is the answer to Ibsen's earlier work on marriage and lies - A Doll's House. Equally shocking in its time, Doll's House tells us why we have to be truthful, really truthful, in relationships and truthful also to ourselves. Much later Ibsen writes a play that argues the opposite.

This production is physically overwhelming. The intensity of the voyeurism, starring into the lives of this family as it all-too-quickly unwinds. The glass walls Stone has built around the stage don't so much create a barrier as break one down. The walls reflect the audience back at itself; we're as much a part of the play as the actors.

Sounds harrowing? It is. But its also hilariously funny. Stone has done for Ibsen in re-writing him completely; what no translator into English has previously achieved. Ibsen's theatre was realistic - naturalistic dialogue; real people; real people's lives. It deals with serious issues about love, relationships and how we negotiate our way through a series of social expectations which seem at odds with the reality of being human. But he's also really fucking funny. And so is this script.

Did middle-class Norwegians 130 years ago swear quite as prolifically and energetically as the characters Stone puts on stage? Possibly not...But then they also didn't have mobile phones, watch beached whales on their iMacs or "go down the pub" with their mates. And all these elements work in this play. Its Ibsen but not as you've ever seen him before. Funnier, sharper, more moving.

I wasn't crying by the end. But I was deeply disturbed. The mics the actors wear transmit every sound; every intake of breath; every gasp; the sound of Leslie sniffing and wiping his noise. It creates a soundscape vivid and visceral and in contrast to the empty set and pared down costuming. It means that the final offstage dialogue between Gina and Hjalmar comes to us as an overheard conversation. Its all the more affecting as a result.

I want to talk about how creepily likeable John Gaden is as the aging and lecherous Werle; the genuine affection transmitted between the two old friends when Werle and Ekdal(Anthony Phelan) meet by accident and share a joke. I want to talk about how Eloise Mignon blazes on the stage, stealing scene after scene as Hedvig; the girl at the centre of all the lies. Or Toby Schmitz using his whole large frame to bear over the other characters; his size and prescence an apt metaphor for the impact Gregers idealistic truth-telling will have.

But its Leslie that sets the set on fire for me. I have gradually been running out of adjectives; metaphors; cliches; with which to describe his performances. Last night I suddenly found the lights going up from total blackout and the man himself almost literally standing on my feet. If I gasped out loud, I apologise. You can read directors talking about his energy; the bottled chaos he channels on the stage - but that close, its almost a little too real. That glass wall around the stage suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Sixteen minutes with you...

...not The Smiths song, but exactly how much time I have left on my YHA internet access card...
Over two weeks into my tour of the north of New Zealand it has come to my attention that Naomi Wolfe has got herself into trouble. Not from the Establishment...not for attacking the beauty myth or saying that women should perhaps be treated with some, she's in trouble for saying rape should be treated like any other crime and that maybe the attack on Mr Wikileaks Assange might be just a tiny bit politcal. Heaven forbid that a woman should express an opinion that might be just a little at odds with the femmonazis...but then the kind of people outraged by Ms Wolfe's comments are all in favour of censorship aren't they?
Sadly the time is running out here in the Oputere YHA but watch this space for a fully fledged rant against the excessively politcally correct and the one-eyedly ignorant.
I may have to type it, complete with predictive text errors, on my little phone...don't hold your breath...