I really really loved this play. It does that awful thing of feeling quite simple but also being totally knotted. Awful for me, I mean.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we react to reactions against injustice. About how the tendency, I think, is to laugh. Or at least, to shy away from taking it seriously. When someone takes the injustice that has been so violently thrust upon them and reacts against it, it is very easy to dismiss them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how audiences are powerful. I’d like to preface with what I am about to say with the promise that I don’t think there is any “correct” way to behave in a theatre. I think it is elitist to think there is. And yet. And yet, when I sit in the Royal Court, and I watch Anna (Nicola Walker) be called a cunt by her father (Alun Armstrong) and the man sitting next to me lets out a laugh, a guffaw, I grip the sides of my seat and I feel my heart catch in my throat. Anna is stony faced, up there, and I remain stony faced down here. Solidarity, I think. And when he shouts and shouts at his wife (Maggie Steed), bullying her and pushing her further and further into the corners of the stage, and a pointless quip releases people around me to giggle I just cannot stop thinking how, how can you laugh at a time like this. There is a very clear and tangible symbol of power on stage, and it is being discussed very frankly. There is no doubt that this is a play of pain and horror. This is a play about men, and the damage they inflict, because of the damage that is inflicted upon them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt. About whether guilt is a useful feeling. Whether it is a feeling that is worth anything at all. I don’t mean small bouts of guilt. I mean that massive systemic guilt. Guilt that presses down upon your back like the ceiling of a house. Did you take any of your guilt with you into the night? I think about the huge window in front of us – a stage disguised as a window disguised as a mirror. I think a lot about how laughter is political. It seems to speak for everyone when it occurs because it is so vocal. Did you mean for that laughter to happen? Does it matter? But but all I can think as I walk out of the theatre is that I did not find that play funny. I did not laugh once.
Oh here I was thinking I was a person, but I was an institution this whole time
That’s not quite the line. The line is slightly different but that is the intent, and yet there is a murmur of knowing laughter. I didn’t see The Writer but I am not sure I could have coped. I heard and read from Ava that it was so incredibly wrong for it to be in The Almeida but also incredibly important for it to be there. I feel the same way about this. I’m not sure I can shrug it off.
And that last monologue. That last moment of the ceiling falling and falling and nearly not quite crushing while there is a release? A testimony. A plea for … for forgiveness? Acceptance? Kindness? When does forgiveness become history and history stop accusing and start understanding. Does it? I don’t even know if it should. Just because you committed an act of atrocity as a result of an institution does not mean that you did not commit the atrocity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of forgiveness, of kindness. Who is afforded it, and who is given the final word. There’s a tendency to let him redeem himself but but but what if I can’t I can’t And if this play is about anything it is about how we react. How we react to abuses of power and how those with the power react to us. Sitting in those seats, those expensive seats, I wasn’t sure which side I was on.
Photo credit: Johan Persson