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I heard an interview with Nigella Lawson where she talked about her experiences as a restaurant reviewer. She said that she was always reluctant to write really negative reviews, saying that she thought on some occasions it was more charitable to just say nothing.
That is my inclination about Horse. I always think I’m going to love physical theatre, then about ten minutes in I’m itching to leave and cursing myself for thinking an hour of dramatic movement and half-arsed dancing will be entertaining.
Rather than write a full review I’ll just briefly summarise what audiences can expect:
Woman dances like a horse with a mop for a tail. Falls into a stack of hay bales. Is heckled. Gets into jodhpurs and a riding jacket (slowly) and reads from a riding manual. Changes into pastor’s outfit (slowly) and holds a equine religious service. Strokes members of the audience. Changes back into original outfit (slowly) and pretends to ride a hobby horse. Stands topless on said hobby horse. Jumps into a water trough, emerges dripping wet and dressed in formal attire. Sings.
Actually the last costume change was quite impressive. It was a fairly small trough.
I don’t think my disappointment after seeing Horse was just the inevitable realisation that I don’t really like physical theatre. For one thing the somewhat misleading positive reviews on the promotional poster are actually for one of Company FZ’s previous fringe productions. For another: half the audience walked out. Seemingly from boredom rather than shock or excessive hay inhalation.
It’s the Edinburgh Fringe! I don’t care if you’re provocative, silly or poorly rehearsed. Just don’t be boring.
The Bosco at Hullabaloo
until the 31st of August
I recently took a trip back to Australia, my sunny homeland, to spend some time with my family (and avoid writing my dissertation).
It’s a long flight. Three flights actually, plus bad transfers. Thirty one and a half hours from door to door.
Drifting through Heathrow I noticed the jolly security officer manning the x-ray device take a defibrillator medical card off the man directly in front of me. The officer suddenly bashed his chest wildly like a one-armed Tarzan.
“We’ve got a ticker!” He hollered, smiling in the direction of his colleagues behind the metal detectors. Pointing the man towards a little grey gate to the side of the machines.
I laughed only to see the man smiling at me. “Let’s get those dancing shoes off, missy.”
I handed him my scuffed trainers and he shoved them in a plastic tray. The shoes and I made it home eventually.
While in Sydney I went to a performance of Elling at the STC. A play based on an Oscar nominated Norwegian film of the same name (2001), Elling deals with the lives of two men living together in Oslo away from institutional care for the first time. The film was adapted into a play by Simon Bent in London in 2007, and well received at Bush Theatre, transferring then to the Trafalgar Studios in the west end.
It must be difficult to make a film (or write a play) about mental illness, particularly when aiming for broad humour. I haven’t seen the film, but I hope it’s a bit more sensitive than the unstable slapstick of the stage production.
The problem with Elling is that the jokes do not hinge on the way that these characters are treated by people in the world, but rather depend on people laughing at mentally unstable people behaving abnormally. That isn’t a particularly sophisticated type of humour.
There were a two great short sketches of bad poetry readings nicely performed, but otherwise the funniest part of the whole piece was a brief burst of diegetic music between scenes; Norway’s Eurovision winning ‘I’m in love with a fairytale’. But I probably found my friend Anna’s instant hysterics on hearing it more amusing than the actual musical interjection.
Australian comedian Adam Hills had a column on the BBC’s online disability resource ‘Ouch!’ where he discusses various aspects of living with a disability – including this great article on clearing security in the US after 9/11 with a prosthetic leg. In his articles he makes the case for the place of humour when talking about disability, not because there is anything non-intentionally funny about disabled people, but because often the world is organised in a way that makes everyday things a little absurd for the disabled.
That’s why I particularly liked the gruff man on security at Heathrow. He seemed to understand the absurdity of a safety system that isn’t very well suited to people partly made of metal.
Adapted by Simon Bent from a film by Petter Næss
Sydney Theatre Company
P.S. I am very sad to be missing the new production of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire in December. Cate Blanchett as Blanche. I can’t imagine it being anything but fantastic.
There are very few books written for children that irritate me more than Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Why would I sit for six hours watching a dramatic adaptation of a series of books I hate?
There could only be one answer.
I love a good puppet.
The big hook of Pullman’s alternate world is that the soul of each character exists outside of their body as an animal. These animals are supposed to reflect in some way the personality of the owner, and become set at the onset of puberty (when, naturally, the personality of any person is set forever). The sexuality of characters is also set at this stage – with an animal ‘settling’ to be of the opposite sex for heterosexual people, and one of the same sex for homosexual people (although no major or even minor character described in this world is homosexual – they are mentioned briefly as some sort of very rare anomaly).
While these soul animals are the cause of most of my anger towards the books, they also require creative staging. Puppets. In this production designed by the Blind Summit puppet company. They were great.
The play, performed in two parts of almost three hours each, was first performed at the National Theatre in 2004. Nicholas Wright (author of the libretto to The Little Prince and Man on the Moon as well as several episodes of the recent BBC adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency) adapted the play from the books. This revival was produced by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company with the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
For those unfamiliar with the novels, Pullman is rewriting Paradise Lost for atheist children. I really like Milton. Pullman is no Milton. In his alternate world scientific development has proceeded along a different route and steam power and Zeppelins stand in for electricity and cars. Lyra, a feisty orphaned girl living under the guardianship of an Oxford college, goes on a magical adventure – discovering not only the deepest secrets of the world, but also the deepest secrets of her own soul. Well…
Pullman intends to use His Dark Materials as a rebuttal to C.S. Lewis for not letting Susan back into Narnia after she discovers boys and lipstick and silk stockings. But rather than let Susan back into Narnia, Pullman seems to think that Susan’s lipstick alone can save the world.
Lyra kisses and lies down with her boyfriend, unleashing magic dust that somehow fixes everything. Not that she knows that her sexual awakening will save the world. Agency is overrated. The witches who watch over her progress know that a prophecy has named her as a new Eve, but don’t feel the need to tell her. Why have a female protagonist valued for her thoughts and abilities when you can put pervy overemphasis on her sexuality at twelve?
I don’t have a problem with children of twelve kissing, in life or in fiction, but beyond the strangeness of a plot relying on the kiss of a child to correct the flow of magic dust (really), her male companion Will gets to save the world with a magic knife. His side of the kiss isn’t of the slightest importance. Why would it matter when you have a phallic power prop to rule the universe with?
The way the animal souls (called daemons) function is also just rather comical. People can not generally be separated from their daemons by any great distance. Some people’s daemons settle as sea creatures, confining the owner to a boat for the rest of their lives. One wonders if a person with an elephant or horse daemon would ever be able to socialise indoors or take an elevator again.
The animals don’t really do anything but make occasional wise cracks. And make out with each other. There is a rather disturbing scene when the two characters revealed to be Lyra’s secret parents kiss and their puppet souls kiss along beside them (a snow leopard and a golden monkey).
The play sets seething sexuality against a repressive church, an organisation which has begun to quite literally cut children in two to preserve their innocence. I’m quite happy to be on the atheist bandwagon, but this analogy seems a bit of a stretch.
This production was interesting, but I (obviously) find the content irritating. See it if you like lectures about why religion is bad. Or if you just want to see a monkey try to seduce a gecko.
His Dark Materials
By Philip Pullman, adapted by Nicholas Wright.
Festival Theatre Edinburgh.
Touring May 28th to the the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Once upon a time, the economy broke and a whole lot of other awful stuff happened…
…but art cheered me up.
From my past posts, you can probably gather I’m a big fan of seeing lots of live performances, as cheaply as possible. Actually, every performance I’ve written up on this blog has cost less than 15 pounds – all of the Edinburgh festival events, and all the stand-alone performances at day ticket prices. It helps to have a student card and a flexible morning schedule to scope out tickets, but even for posh places like the ROH you can try your luck at the ticket office just before the performance.
Back when I was in Sydney I liked going to the Belvoir St box office on Tuesdays to get pay-as-you-can-afford tickets (or a minimum of 10 dollars) for shows at the downstairs theatre – if you’re there about forty minutes early you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat, depending on the popularity of the show.
According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian arts sector is starting to suffer from the economic downturn, and companies are starting to look at discounting tickets across the board.
ETA: Here’s another one today.
Last night I went to a great Balkan club night here in Edinburgh – seven pounds for a couple of hours of crazy folk-ish/gypsy/klezmer music, plus belly dancing, and an impromptu farandole-mosh-pit.
Tonight I went to local arts co-op Forest to see a performance from Anti-folk-ish harpist Erica Holcomb. It was great. The harp pieces were better than those on the guitar, and the crowd was a little distracted and noisy at times, but free concerts are awesome.
Moral of the story:
Take advantage of cheap tickets if you can get them – show everyone there is a demand for good quality, affordable theatre and music. Go see new things. Be nice to box-office staff. Student performances and emerging new acts are cheap, and sometimes free. Free/inexpensive shows can be bad. So can expensive ones. Arts companies like loyal audiences. Support them.