Image shared on Flickr by somegeekintn via a CC license
I saw two very different pieces this week. Both made me react quite strongly so I thought I’d scribble a few lines about them. (aside: what’s the typing equivalent of scribble? Patter?)
Although really very different pieces, one devised, one scripted, one raucous and difficult, the other anxious and heartfelt, it felt like they were both, in some way about inarticulacy; Ugly the inarticulacy of a potential then, What I Heard About the World about the inarticulacy of being, now. Here are some thoughts:
Ugly is a piece touring regionally with Red Ladder Theatre, the script is by Emma Adams and is a really challenging piece which I struggled with. It was only actually by the post-show discussion that it really began to work for me. That’s the first time how I felt about a piece has been changed so dramatically by talking with people involved. <insert something about me being stubborn>
Both the text and the direction was relentless. There were no still characters, no still moments, even moments of (opted) coitus were frenetic and impersonal, the characters seemed to be archetypes left out in the sun too long then fed a combination of amphetamines and ritalin, and the language warped and broke and jarred and choked with swear words. I struggled to hold my attention to it because it rattled on without respite. And I think that now feels like it was the point. It was not structurally sound. It felt like it was too long. And it said big things, at the same time as (with the frequent swears) saying nothing. It was a flawed vehicle about a flawed future. When I got back from Twitter I described it as a mix of Alice in Wonderland and Threads. And as I pile similes and metaphors on you – you hopefully see something, too, of inarticulacy. The experience of the play, not the words or the action, is where the heart of it lay.
But I also think that this play wasn’t really for me – not that I didn’t like it, but that for me, it’s not necessary. It was a piece for younger people, the ones who don’t see beyond now because as yet their life doesn’t require them to, and don’t connect the many news reports to a future. I don’t need convincing climate change is deadly. And I’m not one to be convinced in such a frenetic, physical way. I think it did want for a greater connection to that audience – this came out afterwards – ‘what happened in between’, ‘how did it get to that’ – they needed a glimpse of something they could recognise, to tie them back to their own lives. But it stubbornly refused that. And that’s a point in itself – you won’t recognise anything apart from that these are people. But some of them aren’t even that.
The other Climate Change Play that has stuck with me for a long time is (the lovely) Steve Water’s Contingency Plan. A completely different, very realistic, near-future double bill about flooding somewhere very like my home county and Westminster’s reaction to it. The script was an exquisite piece of almost porcelain sculpture – and as Steve, and like me, cerebral at heart. That was my watershed. But I think for a few people, younger, Ugly might be theirs.
What I Heard About the World
The ink bleeding from an upturned plane, sunk in a salted fish tank. A love song for a massacre. A little girl with magical powers. The sound of…
These are images swimming in my mind after seeing What I Heard About the World last night.
This piece, devised by Sheffield’s Third Angel with the Portuguese Mala Voadora was a much gentler, stiller, but also more anxious experience. It felt more about the weight of storytelling, the weight of being the storyteller. It took me about 15 minutes to settle into and I think I’ve put my finger on that being down to each of the 3 people in the piece’s approaches. Alex felt like himself, telling stories – Chris, with his mode of um’s and er’s felt more writerly, but at the same time as someone performing someone telling stories, and then Jorge felt much more like ‘just’ a performer. As though each of them took on a different stage in the telling of the stories they’d been given.
The piece was nicely woven together, I appreciated the music (and hint towards storytelling of old) and the linking sections of action and fast rambled accounts of the real-life journeys to reach the places talked about. My opening unease about not really knowing whose piece it was – which character it belonged to – relaxed, as it felt like mostly that actually it belonged to none of them, all of them, both.
In a very different way to Ugly there was again something there about inarticulacy – this time the inarticulacy of being in the world and the decisions – conscious or unthought – which we make in order to fit it in our heads.
The end section really brought this into focus, and reminded me of a passage I just read from a book on Heidegger;
“What art can do is bear witness not to the sublime, but to the aporia [undecidability] of art and to its pain. It does not say the unsayable, but says that it cannot say it. ‘After Auschwitz’ it is necessary, according to Eli Weisel, to add yet another verse to the story of the forgetting of the recollection beside the fire in the forest. I cannot light the fire, I do not know the prayer, I can no longer find the spot in the forest, I cannot even tell the story any longer. All I know how to do is to say that I no longer know to tell this story. And this should be enough. This has to be enough.” – Lyotard, here
Particularly for the (character of?) Chris Thorpe, the piece felt like it was hinting towards a kind of liberal inarticulacy. A want for parity in world that offers none, a need to not take stories as wide-brushstroke constructions, when as soon as they’re told, that’s what they become. And a resistance to narrative causality, because you know that the bad stories end with an ending that can’t be undone. At the last, he can’t take the accountability, and reads instead from a worn piece of paper – to me that said ‘this one isn’t my responsibility’.
Although perhaps it was just ‘I haven’t had time to memorise this yet, so we aged the paper to make it look intentional’.
[see what I did there?]