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.

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a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)

debbie tucker green’s decentralisation of power begins in her title. in her very authorship.

what must be grasped is that her writing is specific for black bodies in theatre. she writes that world because it is what she knows but also because it is a powerful political rebellion. yes this show could be performed by a white cast but really it shouldn’t be because that isn’t who it is written about or for.

tucker green remains an elusive figure in british theatre. her lack of interviews, scholarly investigation and profile often make her work seem impenetrable. in fact, it is much the opposite. the language is rhythmic and cuts off, perhaps not what we are used to in an age of television scripts and lingering shakespearian soliloquising, but it is more real than any drawn out monologue. this is how we speak. this is how she gives voice.

notably, there are written silences.

the silences are poetic just as the language is.

sometimes the silences say more. maybe they always say more.

tucker green’s work is so visceral, live, electric. it sparks and flicks. it bites. it bounces off the page into the mouths of the actors and out into the world. it is fire, it is passion, it is delicate. a profoundly follows three couples. inevitably intertwined, the structure of the stories is reminiscent of the three stoning mary narratives that neatly intersect at the final moment.

we sit on swivel chairs, separated into two sections and surrounded on three sides by a raised platform. the floor, walls, and seats, jutting out at perpendicular angles, are all the same blue-green tone. the whole set is a blank canvas, waiting to be patterned with the circles and runes drawn on throughout the evening by the six actors. i was entranced by merie hensel’s design. not only was the jerwood upstairs unrecognisable, the colour schemes worked beautifully. it was a live art installation cleverly masked as a theatre set. the chalk dust caked the actors’ hands, reminding us of the shadows that have followed them from previous scenes and from their lives before the scenes and the after, even if we don’t think about the after.

the acting is sharply placed. the ages of all the characters shift dramatically and some transform in front of us. we are confronted with a linear narrative that is presented through a structure that disrupts. the actors manage and control this eloquently, with grace and force. they are all standout performances. i am whisked away and yet we (the audience) are really all too present.

debbie is political without being overt. she changes the game while refusing to participate in it. she manages to be poetic without ever being wanky, something i am clearly yet to achieve.

 

[picture credit Stephen Cummiskey]

Learning to Die Better

Thoughts on The Children, Escaped Alone and Ecological Disaster

If you’re not going to grow, don’t live.

That’s what Hazel says and that’s what she believes. We believe her.

So I want to chat about James Macdonald for just a second. His two shows at the Royal Court in the past year, Escaped Alone and The Children, asked how we might best learn to cope and die in our old age in the apocalyptic imminence of our world. When Escaped Alone entered theatres in February of this year, it was highly praised for the age of the women on stage. We never see older women as the front runners of plays that are new, explosive, and unsettling. Linda Basset’s periodical and unfiltered documentations created a disquieting show. Churchill’s display of a dying world seen through surreal bifocal lenses asked us what we were willing to accept. Can we accept our mortality? The mortality of our planet? Are we prepared to take responsibility for the consequences, in our back gardens no less? Perhaps we find the answers in The Children.

Lucy Kirkwood presents her aging characters with a moral choice – choose to die for the ‘greater good’ or wait to die for the children, because they need you. Again, we are put in a domestic setting much like our own, except it’s a bit crooked (literally the set was titled). The cows are dead, Ken is dead, the wave came, the ground cracked; things are not as they were. And yet there is denial and a refusal to accept that what has happened, and what is happening, is going to affect how we live and die. We still do yoga, we still drink tea, we still bicker – because what else can we do? And then Rose, an outsider, an intruder, a different kind of person all together, disrupts us. When she presents Hazel and Robin, and us, with her proposal we are caught off guard. Is it our responsibility? Must we rectify what we have destroyed? Because, like Hazel said, they’re the kind of people that cleaned up other people rubbish on picnic sites and now they’ve earned it. They’ve earned the right to leave the mess and they’re tired of this shit. Kirkwood asks us then, essentially, are you prepared to pick up your rubbish and die for it? Because you were the ones that dropped it in the first place, right? I saw glimpses of Churchill in Kirkwood’s writing – the jumps between talk of tea and talk of catastrophe was seamless but there was a shift. What Churchill elongated and examined in Escaped Alone, Kirkwood condensed and put in a ticking clock world. So, what are we going to do?

But actually the question becomes not what are we going to do, but what are you going to do. You, the elusive, conservative older generation that voted for Brexit, that uses nuclear power, that created a system that fucks us – how are you going to fix it? When the shows are watched with these questions floating in the back of your brain, The Children becomes an angry piece of political theatre – pointing fingers and asking who’s going to clean this up? But maybe they’ve done enough and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice themselves? It’s so hard to answer this question, all these questions, because it is happening to us right now. There have been waves and leaks – it just hasn’t happened here yet so for us, for the ones watching the show, it’s not real. Not yet. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately about the Anthropocene and ecocritical thinking and the question that I keep coming back to is, what can we actually do? I think writing literature and plays and making art about the declining state of our planet and our species is important and it’s also futile.

I kind of like that though – it’s futile and if we draw attention to that and ask what is really going to be done, then maybe we can make change? But would we or anyone we know sacrifice themselves to try and salvage our planet? I’m not sure they would, or even if I would. And that is so scary. So we need to learn to die better. We need to learn to accept our own mortality and the impending mortality of this earth if we are complacent. It’s too overwhelming to think about the destruction of our entire species but we need to, and we need, like Macdonald, Churchill, and Kirkwood, to think of death as not something to resist, but simply an inconvenience.