Synopsis: Five Japanese spirits – a General, a Man, a Mother, a Girl and a Poet – recall their life experience in the Second World War. They are collectively thrown into turmoil in the process of recollection and recall, and in their wish to “make sense” of the war and its atrocities inflicted upon them, not only by the enemy but also by their own government and army.
What moved me: Many things moved me about this work, least of all the bolt of shock when I realised the freedom that comes with the representation of spirits onstage. Although they will ultimately by tied by the corporeality of the performer, it allows the easy transcendence of time and space, as well as other limitations that come with liveness.
As an example, this stage direction:
The series of questions shock the Mother, the Man, the Girl and the Poet, first into stillness; then the stillness turns into severe trembling – finally leading them to emit an almost animalistic cry – as if their inner souls have been stirred and a long-locked beast of the wild is finally unleashed.Instinctively, impulsively, they begin to undress, revealing bodies painted in primal, savage colours. They all look the same. Tattoos bear individual designs of a unified primitive style.
They show a lightness like spirits, an awesomeness like ghosts, an honesty like children, a savagery like beasts. And their personalities have been reduced to a basic commonality of primal instinct.
The devastating image of a woman looking for her husband amongst the many thousand skeletons and, failing to find him, committing a funeral ceremony for each collection of bones.
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.
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.
Synopsis: Aphrodite is furious for Hippolytus’ refusal of her power and his avowal of chastity to the goddess Artemis. She curses him by forcing his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him. Phaedra wishes to kill herself to be released from this illicit burden but her nurse is convinced she may swear Hippolytus to secrecy and make him understand. She fails, and Phaedra kills herself when she overhears the disgust of her stepson. She leaves a note claiming to have been raped by Hippolytus so that he may not reveal her desire to his father Theseus. Theseus finds the note and banishes his son, calling on his father Poseidon to kill him. Poseidon does so by calling out a sea monster to frighten Hippolytus’ horses and drag him to his death. Hippolytus’ dying body is brought to Theseus and Artemis appears to reveal Aphrodite’s trick. Theseus seeks his son’s forgiveness as he dies in his arms.
What moved me: What I love about this work is the mortality of its gods. Aphrodite is the queen of sass and Artemis might be a frosty librarian and both are equally governed by human desires. They experience the desire for power over others just as we do and are subject to the pettiness of rivalry, the pangs of longing, and the sweetness and bitterness of grief.
Synopsis: This collection of five short plays is explained best the Writer’s Note.
“The five short plays that make up Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions move toward feeling by way of thought, and toward gratitude by way of loss. These largely sane plays feature people alone or in pairs, or both, attempting to present themselves in the best light, or ultimately, desperately, in any light. Inadvertently vulnerable, or unconsciously callous, or both, the characters here realise that they are stuck in a body that will fail, and they try to put the best face on it. They are, at times, like all of us, unsure of who they are, what they want, and what exactly they’re on the way to. Is it a funeral or a christening? Is it both or neither? Though this might all seem hazy and conditional, it might all in fact be painstaking and absolute. This is life, for the Problematical Animal.”
What moved me: Unaccountably, I googled “Oh, the humanity” to find a picture to accompany this post and came across this. It is a recording of Herbert “Herb” Morrison, an American radio reporter, reporting on the Hindenburg disaster, a catastrophic fire that destroyed the LZ 129 Hindenburg zeppelin on May 6, 1937, killing 36 people. If you go to the link and listen to the recording, if you listen to Morrison unravel as he watches this devastation unfold before him, the framework for this play crashes to earth much like the zeppelin must have.
What is joyous, though, is that being aware of this context is totally unnecessary to encounter this play. I find a lot of comfort in this fact – that every time we encounter the world meaning will be made, regardless of whether that meaning was intended.