In a rich man’s house there is no place to spit but his face.
Diogenes of Sinope
In a rich man’s house there is no place to spit but his face.
Diogenes of Sinope
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Working in the theatre means watching the same thing over and over again. Which of course can be a nightmare, but at the best of times it means I can watch a performance and/or a production develop, deepen, reveal layers initially unseen and unexpected. All that comes from the text and what the designers, actors and director add to it. I went to hear the playwright Chris Bush speak recently and she said something along the lines of: what is good is when the production is what you had in mind for your play, but what is great is when the production goes beyond your original ideas. As performances repeat, no two ones ever being the same, that process can continue to uncover what the playwright had in mind and then go beyond.
‘Beginning’ by David Eldridge (as all regular readers know) was a case in point for me. I never failed to be moved by it, and it was a joy watching its growth on the West End stage – oh, and growth can go in all sorts of directions. A play is an art form unlike most in that it gets handed over to adoptive parents. If you are a living playwright (for better or worse) you can continue to be part of its continuing life, but you still have to surrender it.
And so to Joanna Murray-Smith’s play Honour. To be honest I had no interest it in. I had gone into a bookshop to get a copy of her play Switzerland, as I shall be working on it next month. Indeed after that I shall be working on her one-woman show Songs For Nobodies, so I feel like a stalker. Well, Switzerland was not there but I noticed a copy of Honour, which rang an bell, and a quick internet search reminded me it had an imminent production at the Park Theatre. So I bought the text and booked tickets. (I’m not generally impulsive but I’m out of work and have the time.)
I tweeted my reaction to reading the text as “it’s left me breathless and thoughtful and slightly off-kilter.” And my reaction to the production at the Park theatre I saw last night? I’d say the above again – plus about three emotional punches in the stomach that filled my eyes with tears.
This play, this production is for me what theatre is about; why theatre matters. In a series of short scenes I watched the complexities of four human beings manifest themselves without taking one side of any character, without simplistic arguments, without smoke and mirrors wit or aphorisms. This play, these actors put me in their shoes, made me feel what they were going though. I read the play quickly as it felt like an intricate dance-fight. The production was slower. It gave the language time without taking away its musicality. The set and lighting designs by Liz Cooke and Sally Ferguson respectively were simple but used to cohesive effect showing less is more at its best. The text has no stage directions for the settings of its scenes, so here the director Paul Robinson chose his own ideas (taken out of suggestions in the dialogue) and conveyed it basically with the movement and placing of wooden blocks, the actors own movement and gestures, and a handful of props. I’m sure it wasn’t a simple process getting to this end for the creatives involved, but boy, did it work.
It’s a play on a well known theme – the breaking up of a marriage – but where it surprises me is in two ways. Firstly the man is the least interesting character whilst the women are vibrant and whole and secondly, one character is the couple’s daughter. This play is called Honour and it is more about the concept of honour than its eponymous character of the wife. Honour is not a word I hear used much nowadays – certainly not in the context of marriage and personal relationships. Here I watched the consequences of the disregard of honour, because of narcissism and greed stemming from dissatisfaction. There’s so much I can write here but once the plot has gone into its main gear, its subsequent twists and turns are through character, and so to write about the characters is to give away the pleasures and pains contained in this play. As I say, nothing is simple as each character reveals more than I expected.
Imogen Stubbs as Honour reigns in any risk of melodrama, a trap a lesser actor could fall into, by opening her heart in the most truthful of ways, so by her last spoken line of the first half, I was left so moved by the understanding revealed to me of her character in this situation that I was unable to speak for a few moments. All the time she conveyed surface and depth simultaneously, for example in moments when she shows she is feeling physically hot – it’s not in the script but it’s so truthful and revealing at those moments in the play and her characterisation.
Natalie Simpson as Sophie, the couple’s daughter, absolutely caught the confusion of an adult as young child (and isn’t that what we all are?) in the one scene of both text and performance that caught me off-guard as I realised the extent of consequences of the marriage’s disintegration. Simpson did absolute justice to the writing in a scene between her and Claudia, the young woman, when so much is conveyed and so much is said in so few words.
Perhaps the most difficult character is Claudia, played by Katie Brayben, who I have to say in the initial scenes brought in more subtlety than I expected from the text. when I was reading it I felt a later gear change for here that didn’t quite work, but which Brayben handled beautifully, and so truthfully. I come back to that word again and again.
Finally Henry Goodman as George the plot’s catalyst. Again there is a trickiness here as I believe George has to be likeable whatever his actions, and Goodman catches that perfectly in his performance. It has to be that way because otherwise there are moments later in the play he has with Honour that would not have some of the audiences audible in-taking breath and gasping, as they did last night. That’s what watching truthfulness in the theatre does.
Of the three plays by Murray-Smith that London is hosting, this is the one I won’t be watching night after night, the production I won’t be able to see develop, deepen, reveal layers initially unseen and unexpected, the production that I won’t be able to wonder at each unique performance, is this going beyond what its author had in mind? Of course I cannot speak for her – but I do believe it is.
This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.
I’ve been reading a smattering of excellent books recently, though not as avidly as usual as, I have been caught up in podcasts too. But the quote below reminded me of the two most perfect short stories I have ever read; both ideal for the darkening evenings:
Mr Wrong by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Cat Jumps by Elizabeth Bowen
A rainy day is like a lovely gift — you can sleep late and not feel guilty.
If anyone cares:
Wise Children – Angela Carter
Love and Fame – Susie Boyt
A Treachery of Spies – Manda Scott
The Accordion – Fred Vargas
Congratulations to all the authors who have made it.
Two sets of recommendations from Waterstones here. I shall be informing readers of my Summer reading list in due course. Too thrilling.
1. “Summer Essential Reading” – which can be named more appropriately “Summer Reading Books”.
Of which selection the books I like the look of are:
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Home Fire – The Beautiful Summer – Spitfire – The Unfinished Palazzo – Calypso
2. And the Man Booker Longlist 2018
Of which Sabrina and The Mars Room are on my radar…..
And so goodbye to another show. I’ve had a short-term covering position and graduated from Board Op to stage duties – hence all my windy tweets. I’ve done a lot of vacuuming. I’m telling you, hoovering a West End theatre stage puts cleaning your own abode into context. I’ve excelled at flying in a curtain, moving props between actors, and operating sound effects (usually on cue hem-hem). Much as I love lighting, I love being in the wings with the actors even more. The company on this show (“it’ll run and run”) have been one of the funniest set of people I have worked with. Many a performance I have been reduced to gasping for breath (silently) laughing in the wings. I have to say that now I have left teaching and gone into the theatre, I find I am laughing more. It’s as if I have lost a burden of stress I was carrying around as a teacher. Well let’s face it – I was under huge pressure and sad to say, although I miss being with the children, I don’t miss teaching one jot. I rarely think about it. And anyway, actors are grown-ups who still have the playfulness of children in them, so the theatre is not much different to the classroom.
I’ve only been on the show a couple of months but I have really felt at home and had a great time playing a little part in its history. I am writing this at home an hour into the show, and I am feeling a little lost.
Now I’ve three weeks of no work/pay and then I hope to have something at the beginning of September. Fingers crossed. I’ll have a break in between. I want to concentrate on my creative writing so I am going to get off social media temporarily.
So I say goodbye feeling sad and happy; I like the transient nature of theatre. I like it’s nightly routine and I like moving on to a fresh start. Farewell to another production that will remain locked in my heart.
I am no novice at looking after hens. I have two sets of friends who own them and I have looked after them (the chickens, not the friends) whilst they (the friends, not the chickens) have been away on holiday.
Note to self: what is difference between a chicken and a hen?
So I already knew they were cunning, tricky characters; not as evil as our monstrous pet cat but nevertheless are out to get me at any available opportunity.
It was going to be an easy task: just a couple of days and they should have had enough food and water that I would not have to go in their coop. However as the hot weather was continuing I thought it best to change the water as it was looking low.
Needless to say the water holder is a complex fangled thing which always takes me longer to faff around with than I anticipate. So I went in the coop which is human height, and so not a squeeze. Hens were restless and making a fuss around me. I had some difficulty getting the water thing off its hook. As I was doing so I did not notice that a deathly silence had befallen my surroundings. It was only as I turned to open the door that I saw the door was open. And four chickens in the garden.
I have to say that I did stay calm and did not panic. What I could have done without, though, was the audience of neighbours in the garden next door, trying and failing to be pretending not to watch me. I chased three little blighters (the hens, not the neighbours) around the garden. They don’t move that fast but are quite good a dodging you and their beady little eyes are fixed on you at all times. Fortunately they let me pick them up without fuss and I got three back in with less problem than I imagined. I went to get the last one…..NO CHICKEN. ANYWHERE. TO BE SEEN.
Now dear Reader it was my time to panic. Inwardly panic, admittedly, due to the neighbouring spectators. I looked everywhere. Do I swallow my pride and ask for help? Why wasn’t it in their garden? It was never going to come back and be eaten by foxes and the parents would have to tell the children and it would ruin their lives and it was all my fault. And it was really hot and I was now sweating like the proverbial other farmyard animal. I texted my friends saying I had lost a hen and was having a breakdown and with a heavy heart I plodded back to the house.
I went into the kitchen, only to find an unhappy cat watching a hen eating all the food out of the cat bowl. The little bugger had eaten the wet cat food and scattered the dry biscuits everywhere over the kitchen floor. I texted my friends quickly, getting replies from them along the lines of “that is pretty much our life”, “that’s one of the reasons the cat is such a bag of nerves” and “I love your messages: it’s like watching someone else live exactly my life.”
So what I find out, when they get back, is that they do let the chickens out periodically, and I needn’t have worried about that. I don’t know why it has never occurred to me that they wouldn’t. And also that every time they let them out, the hens make a run for the kitchen. I had been in the unusual situation of them not all doing this the second they were out, and that only one of them eventually bothered to get to the kitchen.
It was all made worth it by my friends presenting me with a packet of biscuits from their holiday as a thank you accompanied by the words, “they aren’t very nice when you first eat them, but they get better.”
If you are reading this, my dear friends: it’s the thought that counts.