a negation of happiness (Girls and Boys review)

Girls and Boys

by Dennis Kelly

What happens to me, to us (maybe, maybe not you, but me, definitely me) inside that room is absolute and complete destruction. We are, she is, I am torn up from the inside out, or perhaps from the outside in. 90 minutes in and she has excavated her annihilation, and she emotionally annihilates us in the process.

Carey Mulligan holds us tight to her chest in Girls and Boys. The words hit us like darts, each sharp and knowing in its entirety. Every ounce of stage time is savored. She darts around us, scoping us out. Testing the water. Dipping her toe in. By the end, she’s pushed us all the way in and I’m not sure if my vision is obscured because of the water in my eyes or because the lights have been making me stare in the same place for too long. Lyndsey Turner directs a production that simmers. It’s a pot that takes 90 minutes to boil. All this violence sizzles at the corners of the stage, the bright strip lights illuminating and containing it in each break. It is held far away from us at first. The violence hides behind the sofa and takes its sweet time, waiting to bite down on the edges of our hearts. We know it’s coming. Kelly is nothing if not predictable. His love of humanity’s ability for ultimate, catastrophic love and atrocity sits neatly in the parameters of this script.

So we know that this violence, this unexplained violence, is coming. But for now, it’s a love story. It’s sweet and funny. Really funny. It speeds along. We’re interrupted by Carey in the living room with her kids. The set shifts. It’s almost too real to be realistic at this point, and the direct address monologues feel much more genuine than the high ceilinged apartment.

I think a lot about violence

She says it and our tone shifts. Kelly’s script is one long experiment. Make them laugh and laugh and turn to each other in their seats and smile at the familiarities of her, her life, her love, her children. Violence isn’t allowed in. It’s only on the television, or in the newspaper, on our phones, in our books, on our stages. It’s not for us though. We don’t. We don’t. Experience it. We don’t ever, really Know It.

Until we do. It’s not about gender except that it is, so much, so crucially, so deeply about gender and really about men. About the fear, the paralysing fear that I cannot ever truly know you. When I stand opposite you, my husband, the one I have said I will live with, love with, care for, comfort, forever, I don’t really know you at all. You aren’t allowed to be desensitised, not this time. This fiction has made me angry. Like fuming, cheeks hot, breathlessly angry. How the fuck have we let this happen. How the fuck can you stand there and tell me that I am not allowed to believe her. It’s not even a question for me. Of course I believe her. I believe her because I know how terrifyingly easy it is for this to be me. To be who I am, who I become. I don’t know if I would be able to hold onto love, to compassion, in the same way she does.

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“all the shitty shit” eve and ava have a very Trash conversation about Victory Condition and other things

we had a conversation and then we recorded it. enjoy x

the beginning

A: Okay you start

E: I thought about a really intelligent question

A: Oh My God

E: On the bus, I forgot my headphones so I was like right well gotta think about something

A: Okay go on

E: So. I think, there is a disparity between (in the show), what we see, what we hear, and what is true

A: Oooooh that’s very clever

E: Mic Drop

A: Oooo you’re so clever

E: But I was thinking about like, when you like see a show, do you like, when you remember it, do you think about what you heard, or about what you see

A: Yeah no there’s that really famous quote by someone and there like … Eve laughs … What?

Both laugh, indiscernible stuff, probably just weird noises

A: There’s a really famous quote by someone

E: By um by Ava Davies?

A: No no someone was like “Oh you never actually remember um, any of the lines of a show, which I don’t think is true, but you know, you don’t remember any of the lines”

E: Yeah we’re actually writers so

A: Yes I have a writer’s brain

Both laugh, again

A: No but like you never remember the words you remember the images that you see um I don’t know I don’t think that’s true

E: I don’t think that’s true but I think when I was, cuz when I was thinking about this I was thinking oh I definitely just remembered what I’ve seen, and then I was thinking about all the shows I’ve seen and I’ve liked, and I think about what I see with them as well

A: Yeah

E: Like with um Anyone’s Guess I just think the two girls

A: The images yeah

E: And the pillow, and like, that’s what I think

A: Yep yep, and then like the backpack, and the lights,

E: yep

 

eve n ava diss their friends and also brecht

A: I literally just think Victory Condition has the best beginning and ending of any show

E: So true

A: Ever.

E: Yeah.

A: It’s excessive, but like I’m a real sucker for shows that like, when the actors turn to the audience and they’re like ‘Hello.’ Like when they walked in and they were doing all, what were they doing, just like unpacking their shit and then they just looked and it was like (an un-writable sound made here, best way to describe it is :O ) Like oh my god. Everything’s Broken.

E: Yeah, it’s all broken down

A: It’s like it’s really simple as well

E: Yeah. It’s so simple.

A: And then I feel like if, like, a student did that, I would be like…whoa you’re breaking the fourth wall whoa

E: True though, like if you saw like someone here do that you’d be like

A: Yeah, I’d be like,

E: Yeah seen it before babes

A: /Bit Obvious

E: /Seen. It. Before

A: /It’s a bit Brecht

E: Okay, you’ve read a bit of Brecht, we get it

A: We get it.  But I don’t know why it was so effective or like, but I guess also because maybe the tone, like it was delivered / monotonously

E: And also like, Downstairs at the Court you expect a Super Naturalistic show

A: / Yeah

E: That’s like, it’s very like, Oh my God it’s going to be like a family drama, what’s gonna happen, and they’re like ‘Hello’ and you’re like ‘Oh my God’

A: Oh my Goood

E: ‘This one’s different.’

 

eve n ava just talk about the end again, cuz they’re basic

E: The ending is really interesting because he wrote like, loads of different endings

A: Yeah. I haven’t actually read the ending yet, like the text

E: No, well I gave mine to someone else,

A: Did you?????

E: Yeah I gave mine to George straight away, so he still has it, and then I have to give it to Ciara

A: Oh God

E: So it’s like, I’m not gonna read it for ages. But I think that’s good

A: No that is good, cuz I like, yeah, I was, I didn’t want to read it straight after I’d seen it, cuz I just thought the ending was so precise. It’s really interesting I wonder like how much that was him and how much it was Vicky

E: Yeah true

A: You know?

E: I think he didn’t have an ending for a while. So maybe that was the ending they came up with in the rehearsal room and then he wrote a different ending and they were like, No we prefer our rehearsal one. I would fucking love that. I would not put it past Vicky.

A: I know

E: Ugh I love her

A: She’s amazing

 

eve n ava talk about crying, because they both cry All The Time

E: I went into Victory Condition being like I know I’m going to Love it, halfway through I was like, I don’t Like it, and

A: Oh Really

E: And when I came out I was like I Love it

A: That’s interesting

E: So weird

But I cried twice in that fucking show.

A: When did you cry??

E: Because the writing was so good

A: Which bits did you cry in?

E:  … See like I don’t even remember

A: That’s really interesting that you don’t remember

E: I think it was like partly when she started talking about the girl

A: Yep

E: In the bathroom

A: Yep

E: That was really sad

And then. But I almost didn’t cry because it was sad I cried because it was like Oh My God that’s so beautiful

A: Yeah it’s written like

E: I mean obviously the situation is not beautiful that’s a horrific thing to say but like

A: No no sure sure but it is written

E: Very nice

 

eve n ava love Chris Thorpe ❤

E: I mean we said it when we came out but it was like this is the play we all want to write

A: Oh my god, Completely

It’s so simple

E: Yeah.

 

eve n ava say smart things

A: It’s interesting that you say it’s about what happens in one moment, because it’s also kind of like, The Moment, generally, like the sort of

Both: The Global Moment

A: But you know do you know what I mean it’s like, it’s more like the feeling,

Because it was just that feeling of complete terror

E: Yeah

A: And like, instability

And it was just like, Oh my God

E: Someone tweeted that it was like a 55 minute panic attack

A: OH THAT’S SO CLEVER

E: Because it just built, and I think that’s maybe partly why I cried the second time because I was just so On Edge, and I was like I just need it to be over

A: Thing is whenever, I was really apprehensive going in because

with Chris Thorpe I’m always going in with Oh my God I’m going to be so Traumatised

E: Yeah exactly

A: And it actually wasn’t

E: I feel like it was a weirdly slow burn show for a 55 minute show

A: So slow burn

But also like I knew from the beginning like when he started talking about being the sniper like I knew it wasn’t going to talk about the minute when he hits her.

E: Yeah

A: Um But that just made it worse?!

Because I knew there wasn’t going to be any like actual violence

E: Almost like gratification, like you don’t get that

A: Yeah yeah you don’t get the final sort of like

Yeah

E: Yeah you just have this Horrible build up

A: Which is the worst bit

 

eve n ava like breaking rules

E: But then it’s really weird because the woman’s story isn’t like this direct contrast, it’s a completely different thing? It’s this weird like frozen

A: A whole other

E: Moment, and then it’s got this Weird Sci-fi thing where she sees into the moment and it’s like Whaaaat is going on

A: I was so amazed

It was just like, it broke like, all the rules of it, for me. Which was really fun, it was just like

It was very freeing

He just sort of did it

Just went with this completely inverse, not even inverse, just like completely torn apart narrative of the woman that’s in no way related, not in any way related to, the man’s moment.

E: And I think people like, look for connections and they’re like what’s the connection, What’s the Theme here, and it’s like Well there isn’t one

A: But that’s also probably what it’s about like looking for meaning. And like so many shows are like about like Looking for Meaning in a World Without Connection, you know like

E: True, yeah. He did it very well though because it was like there is literally no, not that there was no meaning, I feel like that’s a disservice, but that

A: But like everything is so atomised

E: Yeah exactly

How do we talk about everything at once and also, nothing?

A: Yeah, and like communicate this like, deep Despair in our hearts

 

eve n ava get stressed

E: I didn’t feel that, like, not sad, but I didn’t feel that Hopeless throughout it I just felt, quite like stressed out,

A: Yeah no it was stressful. It was a really stressful watch.

And I guess, I didn’t feel Hopeful at the end, like when he’s, when it is that ending of like, he looks up and he’s like ‘Sharon’, and they make the eye contact and the light changes, and oh I just get goosebumbs even thinking about it. But you know that’s like, I felt like quite gratified by it? Not like totally but it was just a sort of like

E: Yeah which I kind of didn’t like

A: Really?

E: I don’t really like gimmicky endings and I felt like it was a little bit like

Ooo we’ve come out of it now so we don’t need to worry about it anymore

A: Sure sure sure sure

go to avatalksabouttheatre.wordpress.com to read the second half

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nassim

Nassim @ The Bush

15/9/17

Each night, a new performer takes the stage for Nassim. This time it is Denise Gough, and the Bush is packed. There is a giddy feeling in the air and the audience bubbles with the idea that we will be sharing an intimate space with such a renowned actress. Already it seems on some level that tonight is not as much about Nassim Soleimanpour (our playwright) as it maybe should be. That’s not anyone’s fault, of course, it’s just a feeling I get. There’s a big group of women in front of me. They are dressed very well and all hold glasses of wine. They giggle and chat even as the lights go down. Already I’m annoyed that they aren’t so invested in this. I’m annoyed that they’re probably here for her, more than they are for him.*

Denise walks on stage to applause and an introduction and she seems nervous. Even from the outset, there are small quips and asides to the audience. She’s quick to jump on her own failings and wants us to like her. (This is emphasised when much later on, it’s revealed that the last picture on her phone is a glowing review from her last show. She jokes that even she gets insecure. I kind of feel for her in that moment and I understand her and her performance a little better)

*This all an assumption, of course. They might have been Soleimanpour’s biggest fans. I suppose my point is that it set a certain tone. For me, at least.

***

The premise of Nassim is a familiar one. The actor is unprepared and is given a script they have never seen before in an envelope on stage. Soleimnapour tricks us, but he also tricks the actor. The envelope contains one page, informing us all that the script is in fact in the hands of the playwright, who sits backstage. Denise is stuck between reading from the screen behind her and performing to us. Again, she is probably a little more vulnerable than she would like.

At various points throughout the show, the audience are one step ahead of Denise. We see the screen before she does and we spot her mistakes quicker. The script is playful, but her nervous and quick-witted persona disrupts what is ultimately a play about longing. I think this disruption is purposeful from Soleimnapour. He knows his actor will be on edge, and plays with their comfort zones, pushing them in and out of security.

***

Nassim was a deeply sad play, from what I gathered. But the audience laughed a lot.

Denise admits vulnerabilities and it is in those moments she is the most like us and without performance. Away from the stage, her nervousness subsides slightly. She opens a little more.

When she runs backstage to find him, he shares tea with her. It is a moment we aren’t allowed access to. I liked that. We see them through a screen and don’t see his face. She is less performative and I am more receptive.

How do we allow theatre to be those small moments of privacy?

How do we allow that small moment of sensitivity to be felt?

***

It was difficult to pin down a tone. I think it probably changed from night to night.

During the show I thought of Deborah Frances-White; a comedian. I thought of Tim Crouch; a writer and performer. I thought of Meera Syal, a wonderful Asian actor. How might her performance of Nassim, or White Rabbit Red Rabbit as she did at the Bush, have differed from that of the aforementioned white performers? Might it have been exactly the same?

***

I think there’s something about stories and translation and a telling. I can’t quite grasp it. There’s a lost feeling, a feeling of displacement.

There is the story through the actor, then through the physical script, then through the screen, then through the playwright, both in English and in Farsi.

I’m reminded of Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree; a story told through a number of parallel voices.

***

Maybe the audience should have been shut out slightly more? As an English speaking audience member, I and many others in this country are afforded the luxury of knowing what we are seeing and understanding what we are being told. Sometimes it might do us some good to be dropped in the deep end (see Gecko’s The Dreamer).

I have had my English words handed to me, and it is a luxury that they can be easily consumed by the majority that will watch them, and that this country allows us to perform them.

Perhaps this is missing the point and it’s more about translation and communication. Maybe we should share in our commonalities rather than shut each other out.

I can’t stop coming back to the thought that sharing is a gift.

***

I have one friend from Iran and I have known him for close to 8 years now. We’ve grown apart recently. I didn’t know that he spoke fluently in Persian as well as English until last year. It was a huge part of his life and his identity and I never saw it or knew it. I thought of him during the show.

I hope he’s doing okay.

***

So, we circle back to Denise, to the white women in the audience in front of me, giggling, and we circle back to Nassim standing on stage speaking to his mother in Farsi. She is omnipresent and also just really fucking far away. Denise cries, and she lets go of us and the performance. Soleimnapour chuckles a little as if he knows something we don’t. The women in front of me give a standing ovation. Maybe they were more receptive than I gave them credit for.

***

Nassim always knows something we don’t, and that is one of the best things about the show. Thank you for sharing.

comfort and debauchery

END OF THE ROAD 2017

This past weekend I did something completely unrelated to theatre. I went to a music festival. After Edinburgh, this was a gift and a sanctuary of hedonism and tents. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but it was a rest for my weary heart. It reminded me why I love music, especially live music, and why I love the people who watch it. No one is really there to be cynical, because what’s the point? You’d just go see another gig. It reminded me why I love writing about music. It’s a mixture of joy, escapism, spectacle, and romance.

I have made this post fun and interactive! There’s a playlist to go alongside your reading. It features some of my favourite artists from the weekend, and I’ll talk about all of them on the post, so you can get a feel for what and who I saw.

It’s embedded and everything. So fancy.

Before I start, I will also be mentioning someone called Tilly during this post (which as you might’ve already guessed, is going to be quite long). She is one of my most lefty right-on pals. As well as being caring, incredibly intelligent, and totally funny (in the least arrogant way possible), she is also just great fun and lets me dance my silly little heart out. I love her a lot and so should you. It was also her birthday over the weekend, so that’s fun too. Here is a little picture for reference:

21392774_10210059468310564_2127495368_o

Tilly and I arrive with high spirits and also actual spirits, hidden in our bag. Turns out they didn’t need to be hidden as this was the most relaxed festival I have ever attended. We were allowed to bring whatever we wanted from the campsite onto the festival grounds. This meant no buying expensive beers and overpriced shots and especially no binge drinking shitty wine at 3pm, which is SUCH a rarity in any festival now. The stages are small, adorned with green leaves and wooden signs. Everything looks like it was made by a woman draped in scarves, probably in her back garden. I went to another festival in America earlier this year, and the screens beside the stage were as wide and as high as the stage itself (which was massive). Here there are no screens at all and yet really good sight lines. End of the Road is tucked away in Larmer Tree Gardens, just outside of Salisbury. It’s known as music’s best-kept secret. It could be a country fair, with its cruelty-free alpaca jumper stall and ‘Vegan Junk Food’ line stretching far beyond any other beside it. The crowd is divided into families/older fest goers, and young things like us. Think lots of boys with nose piercing and dungarees, lots of girls with pink hair and cardigans. Everyone was beautiful. The first two days are perfect. The temperature is hot, but not so hot that I wanted to sweat my entire skin off. Tilly and I switch between floating dresses and high waisted trousers, but always accompanied by glitter.

First day, first gig. We had a little bit of inside information and had heard that Mac Demarco, the Canadian born indie rock star, would be secretly interviewed for a podcast on the Comedy stage at 1pm on Friday. We arrived there at 12, to find the longest queue in the world waiting for us. Clearly not that secret. No matter though, Tilly and I are intrepid women so we ran down to the front of a huge grassy slope to a sit in front of a very small stage. Mac did indeed arrive at 1, and was incredibly charming. His demeanour was soft and he almost recoiled from the crowd at times. He played ‘This Old Dog’, off his new record, and ‘Still Together’, an older song from 2, his second album. His stripped back acoustic guitar matched his retreating personality. He was apologetic of some bum notes, laughing with us at the long, high wails of ‘Still Together’. Afterwards, we met him and obviously both froze, because what do you say to the coolest guy ever?

We leave a little flustered but just totally happy. End of the Road was kind to us in the early hours of that first day. Later, we see Parquet Courts and Real Estate in a double bill on the main stage. Both indie folk bands have a weird appeal that made us stay. Real Estate are a band I’ve known about for a while, but have never really appreciated. ‘Talking Backwards’ is a song from my Vampire Weekend days and it was actually excellent live. Martin Courtney has a bashful smile that guides him through each song; lilting twangs bumble along into catchy choruses. They seem quietly happy to be there, grateful of our dancing and the sunset. Alex Bleeker, who looks like a cool and charasmatic dad, leads us in a unified farewell to the sun as it sets over the trees. These songs are like coronas; crisp and light. You don’t feel too heady afterwards.

If Real Estate are a light beer, Mac Demarco and his headlining set is the Jameson whiskey he swigs in between songs. Tilly says Jameson whisky is ‘top class’, and so is Mac’s set. He swaggers on stage with his band and he opens with ‘On a Level’ from his latest record, arguably a much more mature collection than his previous works. Somehow a crowd of sweaty teenagers find they can jump around to Steely Dan style guitar and crooning lyrics. It’s pretty great. His stage persona is like a different person to the shy guy we saw in the afternoon earlier that day. He is more drunk, more sweaty, more carefree. He covers ‘A Thousand Miles’ but only repeats the first line; Making my way downtown, over and over. It’s sarcastic, ironic, cynical. Everything End of the Road isn’t. But it works, and his genuine love for his craft is glimpsed in songs like ‘The Stars Keep on Calling My Name’ and ‘A Heart Like Hers’. There is a generosity in his performance, as he accepts a cigarette from a fan, as he talks about Kiki (his long time true love), as he praises EOTR for its kindness, as he crowd-surfs across the crowd and all the way to Pond. That takes a certain kind of trust and love and irony to let your fans do that. He loses a shoe along the way. It’s fairly brilliant, really.

We reach Pond. That is, me, Tilly, Mac, and the whole of his crowd reach Pond all at the same time. Still on a high from Mac’s set and after-set-surf we get quickly absorbed in Pond’s psychedelic durational indie-rock. A band that has titles like ‘Man, It Feels Like Space Again’ and ‘30000 Megatrons’ have got to be incredibly annoying, right? Well, they aren’t. They’re again pretty humbled and have the best light show of the whole festival. It’s funky and dirty under your nails, clouded by Tame Impala-ish riffs.

First up on Day Two is Moses Sumney. A recommendation from my dad and an excellent one at that. Sumney is iconic; dressed in reflective sunglasses and high waisted linen. He quips that he’s going to play more ‘sad, boring songs, sorry’. We don’t mind. His set is intricate and experimental. He sings a lot about death and recycling. It’s giving and also very private. We are allowed glimpses into his process and his humour, but it is soon masked by his loop pedal chords and piercing vocals. Tilly says he’s like Bon Iver, but way better. She’s right of course. He is way better, and he hasn’t even released his first album yet.

Then we head to Alvvays, a high school sweetheart Canadian band, and it’s pronounced ‘always’ by the way. We got it wrong, too. Their set is so cute. We dance along to lyrics about Canadian streets and prom queens and matrimonial harmony. I haven’t been able to get ‘Party Police’ out of my head. It’s the one on the playlist, so do be warned before you listen, that it will probably be stuck on a loop. Also, it’s where the title of the post comes from (sort of).

You don’t have to leave, you could just stay here with me
Forget all the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery

So I thought Friday couldn’t be topped. We met Mac DeMarco like HOW could that be topped?

Turns out it totally could be. We head back to the stage where we saw Moses Sumney and settle ourselves into the third row for Car Seat Headrest. Fronted by Will Toledo (who had released eleven(!) full length albums on band camp before being picked up by a record label) Car Seat Headrest are an oxymoronic cocktail. The lyrics drip with pretentious authenticity and the music is both incredibly inventive and soulful, as well just being angry noise a lot of the time. Over the past year, I have listened to their album most. It has stuck with me and I’m not really sure why? It’s just very good. The song ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is my favourite and it was like a spiritual experience when I saw it live. Everyone around me loved that band as much as I did, and we let them know. We danced and pushed and shouted and laughed in the night.

Then we run to Father John Misty. Tilly hates him. She has hated him ever since I played his second record in our dorm at school in December of 2015. She was determined to see Ty Segall instead. But I drag to the first half an hour of Misty, promising she will at least be able to laugh at him. Once she sees how hard I scream when he comes out on stage, she decides we should stay. I lost my voice during this set. FJM is such an asshole. His stage personality oozes cynicism and the gloating misogyny that follows some of his lyrics make me want to hate him. But all rational thought leaves my brain when his songs start. I know every single word and it annoys everyone around me. Tilly loves this and joins in when she can (luckily she doesn’t have the same obsessive personality I do and everyone around us was a little bit less annoyed with her). He begins the set with tracks from his third album, ‘Pure Comedy’, where he tries to distil modern hopelessness with cackling irony. He wades so deep in sarcasm in those songs that it seems like he is stuck there, and can’t return to the humour and love of Fear Fun or maybe even I Love You, Honeybear. However, as much as these songs frustrate me, I still sing along. Then he finally gets onto songs like ‘Nancy From Now On’, and ‘Strange Encounter’. He thrusts his skinny body around the stage and throws his sweaty hair about. As ironic as Josh Tillman wants to be, his sets still give people unadulterated joy.

Third day. So. Much. Rain. Like, So Much.

We take shelter in the Tipi tent, it is warm and comfortable and has some lovely folk bands hiding away. We arrive to see the end of Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz, afterwards taking a nap on the woven flooring. It smells damp mostly, so that’s a little unpleasant but we get over it because we’re pretty damp too. Next up, Spook School. They are an incredible queer punky indie band. Tilly and I dance harder with every song. They sing about being non-binary, about abusive relationships, and about bisexuality. It’s clever, anarchic pop and we dance so hard. It’s so much fun.

We move outside, to see Perfume Genius, another incredible queer artist. Mike Hadreas is a sexy, leather trouser wearing, beautifully and unashamedly camp performer. His elegance and intensity is matched by the sharp skills of his band. We watch as he pulls himself in and out of shapes around the stage, contorting himself to fit different patterns and move outside of defined rhythms. His voice is beautiful and clear, cutting through the rain to the back of the crowded garden.

And that’s it really. It was a weekend of indulgence and pleasure and beer. There were only around 9000 people there. We saw all the same people at the same gigs, including two very young girls with very good music taste, who liked being on the barrier no matter the consequences. I find myself reaching back to certain moments. To the mornings of sausage and egg baps, to the shared laughs between artists and crowds, to humbled smiles from smaller artists given big stages, to the free plate of roast potatoes drowned in gravy. It was really fun to write this long and indulgent post about something I really love, even if no one reads it. Festivals feel like a place where I can let go of everything else, and just kind of enjoy having no real concept of time except to see the next set, and not eating real food for a couple of days, or sleeping in a real bed. It’s a pocket of nowhere and it’s taken down when we leave. It’s a small imagined community of sound and creation and I love it. I felt like this one wasn’t too capitalist either.

Thanks Tilly. Thanks End of the Road. Thanks Mac and Josh.

I’ll now go back to my blankets of hibernation.

X

Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope)

This latest innovation from Powder Keg is a fuck off, head banging, dark, celebratory gig/show/fortune telling/revolution. That’s a lot of words. You need them to try and encapsulate the joy and anger everyone in that room (I think) felt. We’re going to be okay. We aren’t okay yet, but we will be.

Ross has woken up in the future and he’s here to tell Jake, and us, everything. He’s got a futuristic silver sparkly jacket from Primark and he looks super cool. He tells us tomorrow’s headline (and he’s right about it – go on, look it up). He tells us about his local pub, about coming back home.

Ross and Jake are our guides for the evening, leading us through Manchester from today, to tomorrow, to 2020 where none of the things we want to have happened have actually happened but there’s a sense that’s they could, and maybe we’re alright. The frustration that comes with not being listened to, being interrupted, being given £50 for the train fare by Michael Gove after you wake up in his house when it’s actually £75, is articulated pretty well in PK’s show. There’s a tug between collective resistance and hopelessness (despite what the title might suggest). The protest in 2020 is going really well (says Jake), except it’s not (says Ross).

It’s really really hard to make a coherent, well formed, funny, sincere show about politics without making people shy away. Powder Keg manage to help us escape and bring us to action. They join us together in jeers and laughter, help us share in our anger at jobs disappearing, at benefit cuts, at gentrification.

See this show for many reasons, but also see it for the music: the super catchy, spangled banner, rock heavy anthems that you want to scream along to. On the last night I want to have a dance party on the stage, holding our middle fingers and placards to the elite, and hugging tightly as we scream and laugh our way into the apocalypse, or maybe just into a pub in the year 2020.

The Edited Lowlights of My Country

My Country: a work in progress

For Clara Potter Sweet and Rufus Norris

 

I went into My Country: a work in progress with two assumptions. Number one, that I would either love it or hate it. Number two, that it was the play itself which was the work in progress, not out country.

Both were wrong.

The opening is kind of trite, a little gimmicky (I want to give it the benefit of the doubt but this doesn’t bode well) – “Britannia” or “Britney” as she is (mis)named, comes on stage with the house lights still on from a door in the back of the theatre. A woman behind me says to her husband “Oh shush, it’s started already, pay attention”. The audience are lulled into silence and Carol Ann Duffy’s words begin to be spoken. And they are unmistakeably Carol Ann Duffy – I’m thrown back to my GCSE English class where we told that she is the Poet Laurette and so she is the Best Poet.

With the lights up on the audience it’s clear that this audience is very specific – the average is probably sixty and a large majority are white. Maybe this is Warwick, maybe it’s the show. (I think it’s probably the show)

The rest of the ensemble begin to enter with their various ‘theme tunes’ changed with a remote pointed at the lighting box. As they enter I notice that they are mostly all white, except for one Asian woman. I did already know this would be the case as I read Charlotte Maxwell’s fantastic review. She addresses this issue far better than I ever will.

The lights finally go down and the audience get a real idea of the set which was very basic. School desks which remind of History Boys and Matilda are pushed into the centre. The pushing of the desks is also basic, and looks unrehearsed. There was very little done with the set (at the end the upstage screen lights up orange and the actors wander about behind it), so the words and performances should have been able to carry it. It might have been better to see it in a small black box studio, where the half empty theatre I was sat in would have felt cramped, in a good way. The moving of the desks prefaced the rest of the movement, which lagged behind the fast moving verbatim script. Polly Bennet (People, Places & Things, Pomona, nut) is cited as the movement director and yet I saw none of her undeniable talent translated on stage.

The verbatim script was good and did what it said on the tin, but it didn’t make me feel much. I was kind of just told what I already knew. That this country is a weird mishmash of racist assholes and conservatism and tradition. The comment that was made on the verbatim, whatever it was, came across as clunky and overworked. It was trying to be objective and yet I don’t think a leave voter would have felt it was a show made for them. (Should we be making shows for them? Would they even come and see them?)

The atmosphere was strange. One audience member loudly says “Boris” when Penny Layden did her (arguably wonderful, arguably overdone) impression of Johnson. An audience member also laughed loudly at a white man speaking as a Saudi Arabian. Three people gave a standing ovation, and some jeered (cheered? not sure)

It wasn’t all bad, okay, I liked the singing. I liked the songs. Not the recordings – the live singing of the songs. The rousing chorus made me feel more than the poetry did. The Irish dancing was also good, although I could sense not particularly skilled.

Ultimately, it was meh. Kind of considered not posting this review, but I think I need to stop writing reviews and then never posting them. (Maybe?) I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It was just a bit boring. And it could DEFINITELY have been a work in progress show (I would have given some good and worthy feedback). Standing outside the theatre, the two (probably) oldest members of the audience walked out, saying “Well that was disappointing” and I really couldn’t have agreed more which seems ironic in the context of Brexit. The show was just an edited collection of lowlights (and occasional highlights) of the British public.

FOOTNOTE: They talked about Donald Trump in a Brexit play. I mean. Really.

Scotland, doing a bad Trump impression: “Fake News”

Britannia: “I love [Scotland’s] independence” 

(And because it was the NATIONAL Theatre they had to talk about the state of the NATION and talk about everyone on a NATIONAL scale about a NATIONAL issue of the NATION – this diss is stolen from Clara PS…sorry)

 

strangeness and love

nuclear war

When I walk in I decide to watch the show in the chair that looks like the one in my grandmother’s first house, in the corner of the dining room. I think the show will be dystopian, political, divisive. I cross my legs. I uncross my legs. People are watching me as they walk in, I’m watching them. We watch each other in the performance, too. The show wasn’t what I thought, in fact was an acute examination of grief and loneliness in a world of isolation and love.

burn a coffee on a stranger. have sex. speak to someone on the tube, don’t speak to someone on the tube, have sex. orgasm, don’t orgasm. switch on the light. drink milk. hide. grieve. miss. fold the duvet cover. don’t speak to someone on the tube. leave the underground. sun. sun. bright. tangerine. tangerine tights. mess. bricks. teacup, teacup, break.

The world of the play is big. By this I think I mean the physical space in which we all sit feels wide, high, bloated. There are huge gaping pieces of empty floor and wall. Only two rows of chairs line the very edges of the space. Mismatched and in keeping with the lamp and dressing table, the chairs are bolted to the floor. The performers watch us. We can’t really see them but we can see enough of them to know that they are watching us.

At the start of the show Maureen Beattie downs milk in a glass. She downs a further glass of water. Simon Stephens watches on. I can’t tell what he’s thinking and later we learn he hated it until today. I loved it, the downing of the water, it was the first moment I realised I loved the show.

The world is dance the world is noise is the size of the room is the colour of the lights.

Colour. I remember colour. The stage is red and everything is red. Beattie points out the yellow. Suddenly I see everything on the stage that’s yellow. Back of headphones and cigarette butt and lamp.

We follow a woman on a day. It’s a day any day, it’s seven years after a death. I want this to have happened over 45 minutes. Maybe she hasn’t even left her house and when she comes home at the end she’s really just leaving her room and we’re on a loop.

Maybe not.

There’s a lamp light in the middle of the room. It’s a carpeted room. I love the huge fuck off speakers dragged along the cream carpet. A long wire connecting to the lamp reaches from the middle of the space into a far corner. I’m scared the dancers will trip but they definitely don’t trip because Imogen is good she’s really fucking good. The movement contained, formed, outlined the words. (Radical for the Court? Maybe. Maybe a new iteration of exacting psychological human thought). Black coats, no shoes. Body morphs, writhes, eats. We’re confronted with destruction, orgasm, chaos.

Another thing I loved was the tights over the heads. You don’t see it at first. That’s the best kind of visual image because it makes you work for it. The performers stuff an orange in their mouths (is there a mouth hole in the tights??). They gorge on orange zest citrus. Correction, tangerine in mouth. That’s important.

Later there are ripped up pieces of orange on the floor. Mess and crumble and peel. What is left after grief? Perhaps it is the cathartic exhaustion after crying in public. Heaving cries, not just little tears. The mess, and the orange tangerine peel.

It’s near the end and now the world is a heptagon of bricks. A plant thrown down in the centre of the small smaller tiny world. The world is her arms the world is dark.

What nuclear war was, or what it seemed to me to be, was a cacophony of visceral feeling and experience. Sounds pretentious, probably is. Every part of the movement and words deeply cuts us, forcing its way into our peripheries and stretching our necks to far corners of the space. The four dancers cover their face with tights and we also feel the suffocation. Physically and emotionally. Suppressed by a grief that is at once all-encompassing and elusive.

I have mixed feelings which I don’t think comes across here. Maybe I’ll write another review in a month, or a year.

Also as I publish this Simon Stephens sits 10 meters away in the Royal Court bar.

Later, I speak to him and I’m so nervous I snap my metal ring in half. He tells me to keep writing and I get very emotional and it’s one of those things I know I’ll remember.