If you’re a theatregoer, August can be a weird month. You either pack yourself off to Edinburgh, or you stay put in places that suddenly seem incredibly empty of theatre. Suddenly, in London, it feels like there’s nothing to do.
This is complete bullshit, of course, there’s always stuff to do. I’m just a dick. You could, for instance, see Mamma Mia! three times.
At the same time as everyone pissing off to Scotland, I started to go mad.
I’ve been sleeping terribly. I did so much pacing. I went on so many walks. I contemplated jogging. I’ve written more words in the last month than I probably ever have in my life.
I graduated this year, and I thought I had a plan that would all fall into place. Except, it suddenly wasn’t what I wanted, which meant I was stuck. I was stuck in a city with nothing to except start to go slowly bonkers with a shit ton of energy. I’m generally quite a collected person, this last month I have been crazy and I resorted to obsessively watching YouTube drama channels to feel alive.
I also saw some theatre. That gave me some regularity. It’s weird, I always complain there’s never anything to see but I manage to see stuff anyway. Pretty mainstream stuff too, it’s not like I’m known as the most adventurous of theatre bloggers. Every one of these I walked out of thinking oh I’m gonna blog about that, and then never did. I’m allergic to writing blog posts that are less than 1000 words, so I collated all my scribblings from the various pockets and draws that they get shoved into. It’s my way of organising that last bloody weird month.
And also I haven’t written a blog post in ages.
£¥€$ (LIES) @ Almeida Theatre, 4/8/18, 16:00
I’m not sure now, and I certainly wasn’t then, what exactly £¥€$ is. It’s absolutely theatre, it’s absolutely performance, but it’s also a game. It’s immersive, and the whole thing will grind to a halt without you, but you’re also watching everyone else react to the scenarios, all the while being subjected to exterior forces. It’s completely orchestrated.
You enter the Almeida as you would normally, but the space has been gutted. Instead of a set, there’s 10 semi-circular tables, each seating 7 people. You’re immediately split from whoever you were with, you sit with total strangers, and you start to play the game.
It wasn’t just a game though. They were acting. There was a bit where the ‘announcer,’ for want of a better word, the performer who stood in the middle of the playing sense keeping us updated, was distributing bonds to the tables. The performer running my table thanked him, and without missing a beat, but in the driest vice possible, he responded “don’t thank me, thank the international market.” It’s such a little thing but it completely changed the piece for me. This wasn’t just an experiment, it was performance.
I am not someone who understands high finance. At all. I have very little interest and I definitely don’t have a mathematical brain (I went to Bletchley Park at the end of July and felt very unintelligent, just nodding at the many different ways they endeavoured – unsuccessfully – to explain the Enigma decoding to me) but the performers from Ontroerend Goed made it so incredibly clear. They explain exactly how easy it is to make money, how to hide it, how to create enormous sums of it, how trust is built – and then how it all collapses. Money is as real as the trust between banks, theatre is as real as the trust between performer and audience.
For reasons I still don’t wholly understand, I was shaking when it finished. It was some serious shellshock. I walked out of the theatre relatively unscathed – with 39,00,000 on an IOU. Where the fuck can I cash that in, anyone know?
Pity @ Royal Court Theatre, 7/8/18, 19:30
Pity is a mess and I enjoyed it enormously. I saw it in the last week of its run at the Royal Court, so the cast were as comfortable with that play as they were ever going to get. They looked like they were having a blast and I definitely don’t feel like it outstayed its welcome.
Rory Mullarkey is actually interested in England and its myths, which I find genuinely fascinating. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. I hope it too is batshit mental.
Yes, Sam Pritchard’s production played up the comedy. It stretched the ridiculousness of that text into comedy instead of tragedy. I’m not mad at it. Yes, I would like to see that tragic version of Pity, but it was nice to actually laugh at the Royal Court for a change.
It was also nice to see – like in Mullarkey’s Saint George and the Dragon – Britain (England?) represented by a genuinely diverse group of people. The bar is on the floor right now, sure, but it was still nice.
It was also a great night for my ego. I had my (non-existent) necklace complimented by the Katie Mitchell/Margaret Thatcher hybrid of a Prime Minister and was caressed with the barrel of a sniper (perils of being on the front row.) I was also a big fan of the way the cast reacted when somebody in the audience dropped their plastic cup on the floor. It rattled around, and the Prime Minister looked like she was about to fight them. It genuinely felt live, demonstrated further when the aforementioned sniper kicked a rubber ice cream into the audience, hitting a man in the chest with a soft “ooft.” He did apologise. But you were absolutely aware that the fourth wall was somewhere out in Sloane Square – it sure as shit wasn’t in the theatre.
Emilia @ Shakespeare’s Globe, 13/8/18, 19:30
Oh WOW. The last time I left the Globe feeling like that, it was two years ago and I’d just seen Imogen. When you genuinely felt like the theatre in general, and that theatre specifically, were totally yours for the taking. It’s like an analogue Imogen. Emilia may not have had Skepta, but it had rage. In spades. I like rage.
It’s a brilliant, massive play. It’s exactly the kind of play the Globe was built for. Is it subtle? No, but it doesn’t need to be – in fact, it probably shouldn’t be, and there’s little evidence on a political level that a subtle approach has helped much when it comes to what Emilia talks about. It’s the type of play that people want to – and can, and do – shout at, and with, and cheer for, and applaud when they agree. It’s a genuinely democratic play.
It’s also clearly deeply emotional. It’s one of those rare beasts of a play where you just now the writer has dared to heave their heart onto the stage so that you, the audience, can watch it beat. You know – even without everything else in the play – that this matters.
Because the Globe doesn’t do subtle well, it demands bold performances, and Emilia was packed with brilliant characterisations. Firstly, the three Emilias; the incredibly quick Leah Harvey, the tempered but determined Vinette Robinson, and then the utterly incandescent Claire Perkins – who gave quite probably the greatest performance of a monologue I’ve seen in that space, and then the way it moved so quickly into the jig, with all the other women delighting in the dance, as she descended from that height of rage she’s reached. Then there’s Charity Wakefield as Shakey P himself, and who made falling off a ladder more funny than it had any right to be and Sophie Russell as Thomas Howard, screaming obscenities at groundlings. A genuinely brilliant ensemble.
The Jungle @ Playhouse Theatre, 18/8/18, 19:30
I saw The Jungle at the Young Vic last year, on press night. I really liked it, but I’m not sure I quite got it. I think a large part of it was due to me not having a clue what I was getting into – I think in my head The Jungle was meant to be a 90 minute fairly straightforward play instead of the almost-3 hour sprawling epic it actually is.
Seeing it in the west end, in a theatre so traditional it is called the feckin Playhouse, is a totally different experience. If you’re sat in the Afghan Café (where the stalls would ordinarily be) you are far closer than you could have been in the Young Vic, the action is far more intimate, and immediate. It’s harder to hide from the actors, it’s harder to not see the emotion involved. It’s less industrial, warmer even.
It still has the majority of the cast from the Young Vic run, all giving beautifully drawn performances. Ben Turner as Salar is almost unbearably moving, and Ammar Haj Ahmad’s Safi has a great authority, an understated performance among all the chaos, balancing everything out. He reminds you that The Jungle is to be watched, not to be cried over.
There is that strange juxtaposition between the chocolate box-theatre and the makeshift community of The Jungle. That juxtaposition between luxury and poverty, carpet and mud. But it does sort of make sense. This is a world forced into existence. And frankly, I’m all for smashing the shit out of theatres to make it possible for them to hold productions like The Jungle. The more I think about it, the more I think that theatres should not be listed buildings. They need to be fit for purpose, and increasingly that purpose is not what it was when the playhouses of London were being built 130 years ago. Theatres are exactly that; most of them were not built to be museums, and they should not be restricted by listed status.
Othello @ Shakespeare’s Globe, 30/8/18, 14:00
What a strange play. What a strange production of a strange play. I’d never seen/read Othello, so all I knew was that it was a tragedy, some of the business with the handkerchief, and that Iago is a bastard, and the single sentence “I have done the state some service.” I didn’t quite know how the play works, and honestly, I’m still not sure I do.
It’s funny. Well, funnier than I expect it is normally. It made me think more about the idea that maybe the Globe holds characters better than it does plot. I’m still confused as to how Othello moves towards its conclusion – but I definitely know who those people are. André Holland as Othello is brilliant, somehow he makes the collapse of Othello’s marriage seem completely realistic. He builds the character on a physical attraction, and because that’s all you see, you can believe why he suddenly becomes so disgusted with Desdemona.
RYLANCE. It’s so not the characterisation I was expecting. His Iago is simple, he hates Othello. Simple. He hates him and therefore he wants to destroy him. It’s a weird hybrid of your recognition that Iago is capable of murder, but you think he never really intends to actually go through with it. He hasn’t planned that far ahead. He introduces doubt and jealousy, he knows how to do that much, but I didn’t believe he was intelligent enough to plan that whole murderous scheme in advance. He’s a soldier, and improviser. He’s no Hamlet.
Also, in case you’re not aware of this photo, let me make you aware of it.
It’s Sheila Atim as Grace Jones Emilia. She looks so good I actually made a noise when she walked out in that costume (though it does raise the question of why the hell is she married to Iago) Honestly, this is another play that should be called Emilia. She’s the most interesting character by far. It was also interesting watching Atim – who I know after watching obsessively in Girl from the North Country is an actor capable of immense subtlety – deal with the conditions of the Globe. Her Emilia was drawn in bold strokes, and Atim plays that simplicity beautifully. And then – then! – when she pulls the rug out from under her husband and has that amazing speech, and then she realises her own complicity!!!! So good!!!!
Shelia Atim is literally the only actor that has ever made me forget that Mark Rylance was also on the stage. You can’t take your eyes off her.
Thinking back over the month, I was seeing a lot of anger. Or, I was seeing a lot of what I read to be anger. I wonder whether it was just passion, or determination, vocalised in a space that allows you to project onto the performance. But I also think that anger was real.
I’m fine now. I think I know what I’m doing next, and I’m the kind of person that has spent their entire life living from one problem to solve to the next. I quite like it, but this was the first time attempting to do it without a safety net. I’m not thinking any further ahead.
You know, apart from the next theatre trip.
Can’t help it.
oh and I’ve had this song in my head for several days.
Photo by Helen Murray.