play thirty six: shopping and fucking

shopping

Author: Mark Ravenhill

Published: 1996

Synopsis: “The sexual violence of Shopping and Fucking explores what is possible if consumerism supersedes all other moral codes. To this effect everything, including sex, violence and drugs, is reduced to a mere transaction in an age where shopping centres are the new cathedrals of Western consumerism.” (sourced from good ol’ Wiki)

What moved me: I’ve just finished reading an article by VCA’s Alyson Campbell about the importance of affect theory for tapping into a “body-first” way of knowing to understand theatre both critically and corporeally. Although she explicitly references Crimp and Kane in this analysis, I inevitably read it through the prism of today’s play.

This work does not, I think, reduce language to have an equivalent expressive power to gesture (a hallmark of the Crimp/Kane style focuses on the materiality of speech). It does, however, generate an intensity of feeling that makes me aware that my revulsion to its depiction of sexual violence is shaping my critical judgement. Is it a bad play because it makes my stomach churn? I think it is perhaps the opposite. It is successful because my body tried to physically reject it.

Through rejecting the subject material because of the effectiveness with which it was conveyed, Ravenhill’s work has made me distinguish between content and form in a way I don’t think I have before.

play thirty five: fewer emergencies

fewer emergenciesAuthor: Martin Crimp

Published: 2005

Synopsis: “A group of people sit and tell stories. The first is about a woman who realises her marriage is a mistake but stays, colluding with her husband in living a public lie while wreaking damage and violence behind closed doors. In the second a Dunblane type massacre has occurred; in the third the couple’s child from the first piece is locked in a tower while outside violence apparently rages.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

What moved me: I have never encountered a script with so little authorial prescription. There are no characters given by Crimp, just numbered voices. Time is “blank”, as is space. The only directive in the first story is that Voice 1 must be female.

What to make of this ‘blankness’? It allows an inner space to expand that is almost a floating island, free of the specifics of material certainty. It lends itself more to radio drama than the stage. How, then, to translate this into the sheer materiality of a production? How to tie it down with bodies but maintain a sense of the text being a horizon-seeking missile?

It reminded me of Tow Holloway’s work. Both share a sense of a series of screens being lifted one by one as the narrative unfolds, each to reveal a new image that reshapes all you had previously assumed about the playworld.

play twenty seven: cleansed

Sarah.
Sarah.

Author: Sarah Kane

Published: 1998

Synopsis: this is the first Kane that I have read and I find it difficult to articulate the explosion of images that it created within me. I’m going to fall back upon Mark Ravenhill’s fantastic Guardian article about his relationship with her as a writer, in which he said the following about Cleansed.

“[It] had been triggered in Kane’s imagination after reading Roland Barthes’s line that “being in love was like being in Auschwitz”. She had found his comparison morally repugnant but discovered that it stayed with her, and decided to write a play that explored her reactions to the idea. Cleansed draws a group of characters – a twin brother and sister, a gay couple, a peepshow dancer – into a concentration camp, overseen by the figure of Tinker, who is part Prospero, part Nazi commandant.”

I will note, though, that because of my understanding of Kane’s life I presumed that the framework was a psychiatric institution and that Tinker was the sadistic head doctor. I guess the beauty of theatre is that both of these understandings can rub shoulders comfortably.

What moved me: I have never read anything like this. I’ve never encountered a work that makes the idea of taboo seem superficial and unimportant. I’ve never read a text in which its theatricality exists on such a challenging scale: make a field of daffodils appear, or a giant sunflower; perform backyard transsexual surgery; have an army of rats carry human limbs offstage. What a dark dream to have to deliver.

play fifteen: love and information

Caryl in 1972 being oh so dreamy.
Caryl in 1972 being oh so dreamy.

Author: Caryl Churchill

Published: 2012

Synopsis: a series of vignettes that allow us to encounter over 100 characters as they struggle to negotiate intimacy in the face of our rapidly advancing world.

What moved me: I saw the New York Theatre Workshop production of this work at the beginning of 2014 and I was gobsmacked. I’d never seen Churchill onstage before and now here before me were maybe 50 scenes being played out, with a complete overhaul of the stage between each one. A swing-set, an airport, a bed. It unrolled with steadily increasing depth – like she was dipping her hand under somebody’s skin.

What I found shocking when I read the script was how little she has prescribed in this vision. No setting, no stage directions, no character delineation. Just her words.