Week in review – 29th March 2015

The week’s highlights

1 – A very relaxing three days at home, mostly spent sleeping, reading and lying horizontal. Mum even brought me breakfast in bed once!
2 – Got a brand new phone which is rather lovely thankyou very much. A Samsung A3. And quite frankly, I don’t know why anyone would need anything more.

3 – Motorbike I think is finally fixed. Seems to be running very well either way.

4 – Had a couple of really strong shows for Boy In Darkness.

5 – Have been getting firmly back into yoga-zone.

The Week in Work

Not a huge deal of this, as I was mainly home trying to catch up on sleep this week. But it was great to see Gareth really beginning to nail consistent performances of Boy In Darkness and enjoying himself much more with the narrated segments. I hope that we can take this show on the road, it’s an incredible piece, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

This week’s shows

So, I got along to a couple of friend’s shows and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Royal Opera House this week.

I’ll keep waiting on the pavement for the ice cream van to come was the first solo show from my friend Ian Nicholson. A work-in-progress set in and around an ice cream van, it linked the history and demise of this particular British institution to Ian’s reflections on coming from the ‘island’ city of Portsmouth. There’s a lot of work still to come on this show, particularly in bringing together the rather tenuous link between the ice cream van and Pompey. Personally I would ditch the latter and focus on ice cream vans, but then again, I don’t really make the kind of auto-biographical pieces that this is trying to be. My main gripe with the show though was the £12 ticket price – which felt outrageous given that the show was clearly still in development, Ian was reading from a script at times, and the piece ended rather abruptly after thirty minutes. Inviting audiences to work-in-progress showings is an integral part of the way I work as well, but the prices are kept intentionally lower, and the show will at least be in some semblance of readiness.

For only £10 extra, I was able to sit (admittedly quite high) at the Royal Opera House for John Fulljames’ new production of Brecht and Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The piece tells the story of the founding and ultimate degeneration of a kind of modern Sodom or Gomorrah where money is God and women little more than the trophies of men’s success. There were some fantastic musical highlights, and the mix of more traditional arias with jazz and other styles reminded me of Weinberg’s The Passenger – one of my all time operatic favourites. The acting and singing were strong, and Finn Ross’ projections brilliant; all in all, it had the ingredients of a great night out… but, ultimately, I was uninspired. Huge portions of it seemed to drag, and the production was just too safe, too clean; a Barbie-and-Ken-style parable, not the gritty, dirty, dangerous horror story it could have been. I think Es Devlin’s design has a lot to blame for this – there is no doubting how clever and pretty it was – but it was a smug and incredibly self-satisfied design that at best seemed to miss the point and at worst pandered to the very pretensions which Brecht and Weill’s opera was attacking. Which leads me to my final point – Brecht… I’ve staged his work myself, I think his innovations as a director were monumental, but nowadays, I just think his parables are so ludicrously one-sided. Capitalists aren’t necessarily evil, but are a fundamental and often ingenious part of our society. Yes, we should put curbs on greed, but to make them the villain of every piece, as Brecht does, is just absurd.

Later that evening I went along to Stringberg’s Creditors at the Brockley Jack, in a new version by my friend Neil Smith. Given the number of times I’ve seen and read Miss Julie, I can’t believe this very similar piece has slipped me by. As Neil said, it’s a kind of Miss Julie minus class anxieties. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘classic’ on the fringe, and it was a bit of strange experience. I sit in studio theatres and want to see something new or rarely done, something bold or formally adventurous. While Creditors was all of these things 125 years ago, and still retains Strindberg’s psychological brilliance, this is a very straight production. It’s a good production… but ultimately I can’t see the point. If I want to see a conventionally staged classics I’ll wait until the Donmar does it again with brilliant actors and exquisite production values. Given how fringe theatre prices are going I won’t have to pay much more for the privilege. The Fringe at its best offers experiences unavailable elsewhere.

Reading

I got a lot of reading done over my three days at home – Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins was my holiday book. A fun page-turner, and although it was somewhat spoiled by my having already seen the film, I enjoyed it’s simplistic escapism. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, based on his experiences in Auschwitz and Dachau, was a different kettle of fish – a both horrifying and hopeful vision of human behaviour. Leaving enough hints for our imaginations, Frankl fortunately saved us from graphic descriptions of the concentration camps. What emerges instead are the reflections of a  beautifully inspirational man. From the depths of misery, Frankl formulated what I suppose is today referred to as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – the theory that it is not the good or bad events that determine our mental health, but the attitudes that we take towards these events. Apparently when working with patients, Frankl would often ask ‘Why do you not commit suicide?’, and from the answers then received, move forwards. Linked to this is his other central tenet – that we should not be asking the meaning of life, but asking what life expects from us. In my case, I don’t commit suicide because there is so much of this world I want to explore, so many great friends I want to spend time with, so many experiences I’ve yet to have, so much more development as an artist I want to make, not to mention the fact that I don’t think I could ever put my mum through me killing myself! This is what life expects of me – to do my best for my friends, my family, my work… and to do it with the most generosity, humaneness and dignity I can muster. I firmly believe Frankl when he says that ‘pleasure is, and must remain, a side effect or by product, destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself’.

Music

Did I mention this last week – I’ve been loving Public Service Broadcasting. Although I prefer the music on their first album Inform-Educate-Entertain I love the full blown concept-album The Race for Space. The track Go! is just an incredible, heart-thumping and joyous experience.

Film & TV

Finally finished Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round this week. What an adventure! And what a brilliantly entertaining pair. Eastern Russia was just crazy, and reminded me of the joys of travelling off the beaten track, where the world is just a totally different place. I can’t wait to start watching The Long Way Down next.

I also caught Spike Jonze’s Her, which I loved, and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, which wasn’t quite as wonderful (and definitely didn’t get my mum’s seal of approval!), but which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both films had sensational lead performances from Joaquim Phoenix and Greta Gerwig’s respectively. Is Gerwig the most beautiful, fun and perfect women ever?

The coming week

Lots of little bits and bobs coming up, but priorities include:
– Final preparations for Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which starts rehearsals on the 6th.
– Time on Knife of Darkness treatment before meeting on Thursday
– Coffees with Irina Brown, John Fulljames, Mike Alfreds
– Final week of Boy In Darkness run – we’re aso filming the show, and lots more friends coming to see.
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain is having another try-out at the Bath Comedy festival
– My friend Jean-Pierre is coming to visit from Paris!!!
– Yoga and theatre afternoon at Young Vic

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