The week’s highlights
– Getting to the end of an exhausting week of Boy In Darkness rehearsals with a strong script and direction for next week’s rehearsals
– Another brilliant afternoon spent with the amazing Barbara Houseman
– The improving weather
– A night-time ride on the new motorcycle
– The delicious coffee I’ve been drinking from my Aeropress
– Unexpectedly bumping into my friend Lily (who lives in Berlin) at the Lyric Hammersmith
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic
Secret Theatre: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Lyric Hammersmith
I didn’t make it past the interval of either of these two productions. Perhaps I was not in the best mental shape to be watching theatre this week, exhausted from Boy In Darkness rehearsals. But I’ve sat through great theatre when exhausted and come out feeling utterly exhilarated and awake. Neither of these two shows managed anything but the opposite.
Happy Days – Every two or three years I say I’m going to give Beckett another chance. I’ve seen some of my favourite directors tackle his work – Robert Wilson (Happy Days), Simon McBurney (Endgame, with Mark Rylance), Peter Brook (Fragments). Every time I go back, I have renewed optimism that this time I’ll enjoy Beckett. But every time I’m bored shitless. Which is not the feeling I get when I read Beckett… but I’ve just never had that magical experience, which I’m sure must happen occasionally, when it roars off the stage in all its absurd beauty and hilarity. For example, having sat through two dull as ditchwater productions of Endgame a few years ago, I actually decided to read it. I was laughing away! I thought, this is pure clown… but I’ve never seen it played that way. Instead, whenever I see Beckett, it’s treated with absolute reverence: ‘we are in the presence of greatness’. Something sacred. Something that we will endure like it or not. Nothing can survive this kind of reverence, which the Young Vic production wallowed in. It was not funny, I didn’t feel any kind of connection to Juliet Stevenson, I didn’t understand the design choices, and I was bored. Surely someone can make Beckett both meaningful and entertaining!
Secret Theatre – A Streetcar Named Desire Some of the best things I’ve seen in London originated from David Farr’s tenure at the Lyric Hammersmith – Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Spyski immediately jump to mind. But there’s something I find deeply unappealing about the Lyric’s current output. I admire Sean Holmes’ attempts to explore more European aesthetics, and in some cases this has paid off wonderfully (his production of Simon Stephens’ Morning was a brilliant case in point). On the most part though, I feel like I’m watching very boring English actors dumped into an empty approximation of German theatre. Now I have to point out that I was in a minority of one at the theatre – everyone else at the production was enthralled. But for me, this was an ugly, miscast, badly acted, embarrassingly bad production that stripped Williams’ sensuous world of any mystery, beauty, elan or atmosphere. I can see what Holmes was trying to do – blast the play down to it’s absolutely brutal kernel. But by robbing the piece of all that steamy atmosphere of the American south and replacing it with a cold, rational, British-accented reading of the piece, so much was lost and little gained. I find Holmes’ productions posses the stark outward facade of a continental production (or at least what we in the UK imagine to be a continental production), but the actors themselves don’t seem to be doing anything different. There is none of the imagination, craziness and explosiveness of the best European theatre. It’s not enough to put actors in austere, art-gallery-like settings. Something else has to happen to the very DNA of the performance itself. At a minimum, a director should read the play like a poet; not a social scientist.
Week in work
It’s been a tough old week at the office. Every production goes through it’s ‘oh shit’ moment, when you’re faced with the reality of opening night, and the complete unpreparedness of the production for that occasion. This happened on Monday, when Gareth and I hit absolute loggerheads. Gareth had gone away over the weekend and come back with some drafts of the script. There was a lot of great stuff within it, but when I tried to suggest some changes, Gareth got very defensive. I got defensive back – what was I supposed to be doing here if not to give feedback? I think both of us were struggling with our own battles. My worries were that I had completely scuppered the rehearsal process by working in a way that was completely unsupportive of Gareth as a performer. Forcing him to take a very analytical approach to the piece, spending so much time focused on writing a solid script, and asking him to stick much more closely to Peake’s language than he had been. Gareth’s never worked this way before. He’s instinctual, brilliant, highly physical. He left school when he was fourteen. I think my preoccupation with the script left me, in his mind, being connected with every teacher who’d ever criticized his written work. I think he was also panicking with the sheer scale of work that needed to be done. I took some of his scenes and worked on them that night, to show that actually I wasn’t asking for big changes, but just refining, clarification. Showing this to Gareth the next day, he saw this, and his trust slowly returned. For the next two days we were pretty much stuck in front of our computers. Gareth sending me drafts, me re-drafting them, until we got to the end. Thursday we read through the drafts, cut down on my tendency to over-write scenes, and then did the same again on Friday. Neither of us got a great deal of sleep, but the effort was fully worthwhile. We now have a very solid script going into the last week of rehearsals that I hope will serve us well. What’s more, going through the oh-shit phase, working our asses off together, and finally coming out the other end with something we were both happy with has cemented our relationship in a wonderful way. I’m very excited about moving forward.
I’m also incredibly excited about the rest of the creative team we have working with us. Martin’s set ideas are looking fabulous, and Jon’s first stabs at sound design had us talking about a gazillion possibilities. Our second voice session with Barabara Houseman was also amazing – having someone of her experience working on the project is quite an incredible privilege.
Which leaves me with Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, which, believe it or not, was also kicking off massively this week! We now have twenty confirmed or pencilled bookings, which is the target I set myself at the beginning of the bookings process. Huzzah! Mainly this week we’ve had a lot of rural schemes jumping on-board, but we will also be returning to venues like the Yvonne Arnaud. A few more venues to chase up and then I think we will be done.
Other cultural highlights
I haven’t really had much time for anything but work this week. I did try and watch the first episode of Better Call Saul… but didn’t make it past the first half-hour. I was expecting some very silly knockabout comedy. Clearly the writers had more serious thoughts in mind. Either way, it was dull. And looked kind of cheap as well. My Leonora Carrington book has arrived, and I’m looking forward to dipping into that when I get a moment. I also watched Prometheus, which was enjoyable, but not much more. Certainly nothing on the level of the original Alien movie. It felt like Ridley Scott was trying to do something between an action movie and a horror, but kind of failing to achieve either. It also fitted into what I labelled a while back the ‘psuedo-intellectual’ action movie. These are movies which purport to have deep-seated philosophical examinations at their core, but in reality are ham-fisted nonsense. At their best, they’re both wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful – The Matrix, Inception… both worked very simple concepts into fabulously stylish movies. But Prometheus seemed to think that it was an incredibly deep film, when in fact, it was just an average sci-fi with a few beautiful images.
Four Tet non-stop this week. Just love to write and work to them.
Proust continues… but I’m nearing the end of my patience. Too tired to deal with it.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently watching music videos. I used to pooh-pooh these as being little more than glitz, pop and sugar. In contrast to the bland uniformity of most television these days, music videos shine out as a format where quirkiness, high production values and artistic risks are embraced. Even when the videos are still a bit saccharine, there still at least seems to be an attempt at making something different. Maroon 5’s wedding crashing video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09R8_2nJtjg) had my flatmate arguing for ages about how staged the scenes were, Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars’ 80s flashback had us trawling our memories for all the references (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09R8_2nJtjg) and SIA’s Elastic Heart if not totally successful, is brilliantly weird (http://www.vevo.com/watch/sia/elastic-heart-feat-shia-labeouf–maddie-ziegler-official-video/USRV81400854).
The coming week
Priority for this week is, unsurprisingly, our final week of Boy In Darkness rehearsals. We’ve got a script, we’ve got a strong idea of where we want to take it, now we have to put it all together.