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 thirty two: anne carson on the importance of tragedy

Today was my third reading of Hekabe (Euripides; school assignment). Rather than submitting you to another report on it here is the first page of Anne Carson’s introduction of ‘Grief Lessons’. 

Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief. Ask a headhunter why he cuts off human heads. He’ll say that rage impels him and rage is born of grief. The act of severing and tossing away the victim’s head enables him to throw away the anger of all his bereavements. Perhaps you think this does not apply to you. Yet you recall the day your wife, driving you to your mother’s funeral, turned left instead of right at the intersection and you had to scream at her so loud other drivers turned to look. When you tore off her head and threw it out the window they nodded, changed gears, drove away.

Grief and rage – you need to contain that, to put a frame around it, where it can play itself out without you or your kin having to die. There is a theory that watching unbearable stories about other people lost in rage and grief is good for you – may cleanse you of your darkness. Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone? Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn’t that why they are called actors? They act for you. You sacrifice them to action. And this sacrifice is a mode of deepest intimacy of you with your own life. Within it you watch [yourself] act out the present or possible organisation of your nature. You can be aware of your own awareness of this nature as you never are at the moment of experience. The actor, by reiterating you, sacrifices a moment of his own life in order to give you a story of yours.

Anne Carson, “Grief Lessons: Four Plays – Euripides”, New York: New York Review of Books, 7.

play nine: the lonesome west

Leenane.
Leenane.

Author: Martin McDonagh

Published: 1997

Synopsis: The Connor brothers fit right into the casually violent and deeply melancholic town of Leenane, Galway. Here, people walk into the lake and don’t swim back to shore. Woven into this town’s dark fabric, Valene and Coleman have lived out of each other’s pockets their entire lives. Muddy layers of petty disputes and grievances erupt without warning and have cost those few who’ve gotten close to them much. Their mutual hatred sits uneasily with the possibility that they cannot live without each other and the tragedy, perhaps, is that neither is willing to find out.

What moved me: this work is terrifyingly visceral. I saw a production of it in 2009 at Downstairs Belvoir but had forgotten its brutal humour and unkempt menace. It’s like chewing on gristle but being unable to stop your jaw clamping down. Its devastation is the responsibility it gives you to hope: a marrow-of-your-bones weariness knowing that nothing in this world can change but that you are the one who has to believe that it can.