Sunday, February 19, 2006

Duck Variations - David Mamet

What a tremendous little find this was. A play that featured two old men on a bench, talking about ducks. That's the play really. Through the chatter and misunderstandings some really quite touching moments emerge, the concern felt by the men for the mortality of the ducks is vivid, images of ducks caught in storms of ice and hail, pursued by hunters and dying lonely deaths on wind whipped mud flats give just enough gravitas to this generally whimsical play.
As well as the ducks, we also get an interesting portrayal of a friendship and the uncertainty of knowledge. Some gentle bullying and some rather inacurate 'facts' form the launching pads for several conversation to fly free. The enthusiasm and imagination of the protaganists for these tangent prone explorations of the world they can see from their park bench is infecteous and charming and rather than 'grumpy old men' I felt their was something rather hopeful and playful about these two.
Having said that, the saddest moment of the text for me was a section about how going to the park was depressing, as at home, you can always look forward to going to the park, but once at the park, all you can look forward to is - going home. How true....

Man equals Man - Bertolt Brecht

Mr Brecht has had more influence on the way I view theatre than most other people, so it is a shocking oversight on my behalf not to have been familiar with this work prior to this point in time. I will say the following. I find Brecht really quite funny. I broadly agree with his perspective on the world. I think if you don't see either of this points, then you will see little of the joy in his work. Here we are faced with a place that makes the fairly obvious point, that humanity is changable and changing the circumstances that surrounds an individual will create a changed person.
Galy Gay is the character who undergoes such a morphing process and his reconstruction as bloodthirsty fearless soldier from a directionless and amenable country dweller is in typical Brechtian fashion, rather painstakingly recreated. Do not dispair though, for we have a comedy fake elephant (repleat with simulated urination for added 'authenticity,') a terrificly brutal and shameful army captain and a series of farcical events to keep us entertained.
I enjoyed this - I like Brecht. You can find far more intelligent comment than mine on this play, so I wont go on too long. In fact, I'll stop now.

Mercury Fur - Philip Ridley

This was a strange read. I liked it and disliked it in equal measure. What's it like? Well, I think to say, CLockwork Orange plus William Gibson with a twist of 'yoof.' I formed a similar relationship to this as I have with Jeff Noon (he of 'Vurt') in that I liked it for being, young and bold and shocking, yet didn't really feel it was totally brilliant. Occaisionally the play clunked along, the whole thing seemed just a bit too long to me. That is not to say that Ridley doesn't create something of interest, far from it.
He sets up the two central characters, a pair of brother's in a nightmare post apocalyptic city, (which in my mind was like that estate off 'The Bill' gone really wrong) and encourages us to feel sympathy for them, as they stutter through various memories of 'before' and 'mum and dad.' They are joined by a cast of bizarre characters as they prepare for a party. However, where this diverges from something like Jeff Noon or the aforementioned Gibson is the nightmarish quality that grows once we realise this party is actually a video taping of a bizarre peodophillic ritual, involving meathooks, children hidden in cupboards and most surreally a strange juxtaposition of Elvis and Vietnam.
Some of the moments of shock are genuinelly sickening, gang rapes and murder with hammers. Some of the characters deeply weird, such as the blind 'Duchess' (who actually is the mother of the central characters)
To be brutally honest, I felt that perhaps this play had too much structure, too much in the way of background. Perhaps that is just my taste, but I found the frequent delving into the near past, which explained how the bizarre group had been formed a little tiresome, I wanted to know more about why this world was in such a bizarre state of lawlessness, exactly who were the soldiers appearing to 'liberate' towards the end of the play and why exactly did the group seem to have no choice but to survive through producing these sickening child snuff films.
Perhaps I have missed the point somehow. For all the gore, there was something quite conservative about the form and structure of this work and whilst, certainly it is interesting, I didn't think this actually broke any new ground. For all that, will certainly be happy to look at more by Ridley

No-one sees the video - Martin Crimp

Mr Crimp is the author of my favourite ever play, the wonderfully enigmatic 'Attempts on her Life.' - Hence, it was with genuine enthusiasm that I approached this text and I am happy to say I was not disapointed by this most strangely disquieting of works. It reminded my in someways of something like Chekhov, nothing effectively happens of any great import, yet of course, when you look a bit deeper everything is happening.

What has alway attracted me to Crimp's work is his genuine understanding of the patterns of human speech and it is very easy to absorb oneself in the conversations between the characters and gain a vivid picture of what is happening. The central figures are Liz, a newly single housewife who under the guidance of possible pederast Colin morphes into a succesful market researcher, interviewing individuals about their consumer choices for a series of mysterious clients.

Colin seems to take an unhealthy interest in her daughter, Jo a beautifully written middle class tearaway, but such is the strength of the work, that topic doesn't weigh the play down, it is just one of the things that is going on. For me, this created a picture of an emotionally barren landscape, a wipe clean box fresh suburbia punctuated by unspeakable moments of sadness and confusion. The dialogue is often terse and natural with ocaissional expressive outbursts that give moments of insight and not suprisingly for Crimp, twist the direction of conversations into suprising shapes. That's not to say the play is whimsical, there is something, something terrible lurking under the surface of this work which prevents it ever heading to far in that direction.

4.48 Psychosis - Sarah Kane.

Now, I'd read lots about how exciting and controvertial Ms Kane's writing is, but never actually read any of it. So to discover a thing of the most abject dispair, sadness and beauty was a real pleasure. I adored this work, the formless dialogue shifting between long internal monologues and snatches of conversation was like taking a terrifying and largely silent journey through a white room plastered with horrific black and white photographs and being subjected to occaisional intermitent blasts of white noise that both unsettled and soothed in equal measure.
I dreamt whilst awake as I scanned the pages, swimming in the despair of the central character and picking up snippets of a doomed attempt to understand and be understood. Clearly this play was written by someone who struggled to interact with the world at times. Here's the thing. I loved this as much as anything I'd seen and read recently, in fact, for a long time and it was only about a day later I realised that Ms Kane commited suicide very soon after writing this. It seems shallow to say such a thing, but I'm glad I didn't know when reading it as posthumous adulation, or even charity can often taint art with a sense of genious or mystery that it doesn't deserve. In this case, it just added a very real and sombre weight to my response.
I'd love to direct this work, I could see moments of balletic calm contrasted with insane headsplitting ritual. It's a beautiful, human work and one I will return too.