Fire and Dance

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Theatre

I have a lot to learn about devising drama and, even more, devising dance.  But I took a little step in that direction yesterday, when I sat down for a fabulous chat with Laura Farnworth, dramaturg for The Print Room’s upcoming production where dance realizes the qualities of fire.  It’s called Ignis, the latin word for fire, and here it is the name given to the female character of the piece.  

Working with the theatre’s artistic director Anda Winters, choreographer Hubert Essakow decided months ago to use the actor Sara Kestelman to accompany the dancers with readings.  But what would Olivier-award winning Sara (who famously played Titania in Peter Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970)) actually read?  Finding an appropriate text for a dance that was still being devised, with music that was likewise in the process of being composed (by Jon Opstad), might have seemed a nearly impossible challenge.  Then Hubert learned that Sara was a poet and that some of her work had been published with that of Susan Penhaligon in a volume, A Two Hander.  On reading Sara’s poems, Hubert immediately found some that he knew he could use in Ignis, where the metaphoric relationship between fire and love’s passion were being explored in a dozen different ways: the intense attraction, the dying away of passion, the betrayal, the sense of being burnt out. 

The dance piece needed some kind of overarching narrative, and that, Laura told me, was her job.  She had to discover a simple story that was not imposed on the piece but rather held it together, a story that fitted with the music, set, costumes and, above all, the fire-like movements of the dance.  Hubert is working with three dancers, and the idea for the dance’s story is that one relationship between lovers is dying while another is just beginning.  This lovers’ triangle is supposed to mirror the triangle of oxygen, fuel and ignition, the three ingredients needed to start fire.   Laura helped with selecting Sara’s poems, suggesting lines to leave in and leave out, and Sara helpfully made changes in some poems, in keeping with the theme of fire and of love’s relation to it.  The fact that this dance piece found an actor who just happened to be a poet who happened to have written some very appropriate poems seems to me to be one of its miracles, and one that is sure to lend it verbal authenticity and power. 

Ignis opens on 8 February and, as I write, it is still receiving the thoughtful attentions of all of its creators, including set designer Lee Newby, who is tasked with introducing real fire into the piece.  I meet with Lee today and am sure I will yet again feel a little overwhelmed by the hurdles these creative people set for themselves and the inevitable uncertainty that surrounds so much of the creative process.  In a recent interview, Sara said that teaching drama had taught her that “the text is sacred” and that everyone needs to be “immensely patient”.  She has of course let her own texts be adapted to something wholly new, something about to happen, about to be born indeed in a baptism of fire. 

Ignis runs at The Print Room from 8 February to 1 March, 7:30 Monday to Saturday. 

 

Pinter on too much communication

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room

DUMB WAITER
Clive Wood as Ben and
Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

On Friday for the fifth time during this production run of Harold Pinter’s Dumb Waiter at The Print Room, I read my favourite bits from a speech Pinter delivered in 1962 in Bristol at the National Student Drama Festival, and I heard some wonderful woman grunt in agreement after the final sentence — which made me feel that supreme sensation of having shared something profound with strangers and it having hit home.  Then I forgot all about it as Director Jamie Glover and Clive Wood, who plays Ben, came on stage together with two members of the Institute of Psychoanalysis, and we were able to run an incredibly provocative half-hour discussion on the play.  IRA safehouses were mentioned, and how the terrorists had to be prevented from having any kind of human contact in order to carry out their mission.  The dumbwaiter as a kind of alimentary canal came up for discussion, along with the idea that the toilet and kitchen off to the side left rather unpleasant associations.  We got to Freud and the id and superego, as well as Ben’s complex state of mind, his contentment or lack thereof as he prepares to kill, and then farce, music hall sketches, comic timing, and 1950s jazz got a look in.  Clive thrilled me when he said that in rehearsal it became so obvious how every “a” and “the” in Pinter had precise importance and couldn’t be dropped.  We have to remember the man was a poet before he became a playwright.

But to return to that favourite quotation from that 1962 speech by Pinter . . .  when the post-show session was over, a man from the audience came over and asked me to repeat it because he hadn’t felt sufficiently alert when I read it and now he wanted to copy it down.  I gave him the second paragraph below, but I will add a previous paragragh here:

“There are two silences.  One is when no word is spoken.  The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed.  This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it.  That is its continual reference.  The speech we hear is an indication of what we don’t hear.  It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, shy, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place.  When true silence falls we are still left with echo but are nearer nakedness.  One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.

“We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase:  ‘Failure of communication’ . . . and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently.  I believe the contrary.  [Here is the bit I wish I could burn into my memory]  I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves.  Communication is too alarming.  To enter into someone else’s life is too frightening.  To disclose to others the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility.”

Not to disclose any more of my own poverty, I think I’d better say no more, at least for today.

Geraldine Alexander’s new play, AMYGDALA

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

I have had a heady autumn dealing with four plays by four great male playwrights, two dead (Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter), two very much living (Steven Berkoff and David Pinner).  And now the season is closing with a play by a relatively unknown, new playwright, Geraldine Alexander, and I find myself more excited about this play than any of the others —

David Pinner and his Russian Plays

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

We had a good pre-show discussion with David Pinner at Getti on Wednesday night, and he pricked interest with comments that a few decades ago would have got people fairly worked up —  about Communists infiltrating the the Labour Party in the 1970s, about him not being able to produce his play on Stalin at the

Dumb waiting

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
DUMB WAITER
Clive Wood as Ben and Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

Well, The Dumb Waiter lecture has been delivered twice now at The Print Room, and the first post-show discussion for The Potsdam Quartet was held last week at Jermyn Street Theatre, and David Pinner managed to give a really insightful interview pre-show on the Wednesday for The Potdam Quartet, so everything seems to be humming along.   The Potsdam Quartet is an odd play in that you can enjoy it without knowing a thing about the Potsdam Conference, but then, once you start learning about the conference — about Churchill and all his fears and schemes and Stalin with all his fears and schemes and Truman with his unwillingness to countenance fear, or at least admit to it, then you have this tale of three men who sought for some kind of personal connection because of and despite the stakes involved.  They had every reason to mistrust one another, and the need to like and be liked along with the need to get an agreement seems in the end, post conference, to have made them almost embarrassed about what they agreed.  And all of that reflects back on the play itself, but it’s a really large frame through which to view the play, so you have to forget about it or watch the entire play with this really uneasy feeling about what is going on in the next room among the world leaders, away from the musicians and all their arguing and fun and games.  I think I actually felt a kind a nausea come over me the last time I saw The Potsdam Quartet, just thinking about Churchill, Attlee, Stalin and Truman and all those aides and cigarette smoke and deals and lies. 

But I’ve got the Sunday morning blues because, because, because,

A. I can’t avoid all the fundraising work I really ought to be doing for Jermyn Street Theatre because there isn’t a pile of research to do for the next play as no one seems to want to have to think very much at Christmas about what they are viewing on stage, or everyone is concerned no one will want to think very much.    

B.  I need to be researching the late life of Isaac Newton every hour of the day — learning all I can about every individual he encountered, filling out the details of their lives — all for the Newton Circle Project which might not yet happen.  Three funding applications submitted and no way of knowing if anyone will make a favourable decision for weeks.  Meanwhile I have to plan and study and believe in what does feel a bit like the impossible.  

C.   Or I could push all that aside and work on a talk on the history of Jermyn Street, which is such an exciting topic, and I’ve already done loads of work on it, but yet there is so much more to do, and I haven’t looked at the material for months.  It all begins with the question about whether Henry Jermyn was really the father of Charles II.  I like to think he was.  They were both so tall after all, unlike Charles I.  There is another material for a series of talks, even a series of series.  It’s daunting.

D.  Or I could put together the exercise bike bought two months ago that still sits in a box but really shouldn’t be put together yet because I don’t know what room it should go in.  There really isn’t space for it anywhere in the house and maybe I should return it but then that would require admitting defeat so much better to leave it in the box and wonder.   That’s one question resolved this morning.

The Potsdam Quartet at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

The Potsdam Quartet by David Pinner

Directed by Anthony Biggs
Oct – Nov 2013
Jermyn Street Theatre

As they headed to the Potsdam Conference with Stalin in July 1945, the most important fact that faced Churchill and Truman was the frustratingly unalterable presence of four times as many Soviet troops in Europe as there were British and American forces. Plus, the Soviets had twice as many tanks. Those troops weren’t going anywhere in a hurry, and, at the time,

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter

Directed by Jamie Glover
Oct -Nov  2013
The Print Room

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
DUMB WAITER
Clive Wood as Ben and Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

The Dumb Waiter was written in the summer 1957, when it was one of the first three plays that came in quick succession from Harold Pinter, the other two being The Room and The Birthday Party. The outraged reception that greeted The Birthday Party in 1958 did nothing to dissuade Pinter from writing and from getting what he had already written produced. The Dumb Waiter premiered in Frankfurt in 1959 and in London at Hampstead Theatre Club in January 1960, having already been turned down by the BBC’s Michael Barry because he deemed it “too obscure” for the television audience.

Perhaps Barry was right, as literary commentators continue to find more angles from which to discuss this one-act play about two hitmen waiting to kill in a basement flat somewhere in Birmingham on a Friday. When he saw it in 2007, Michael Billington said The Dumb Waiter reminded him of the scene between Clarence’s murderers in Richard III. Everyone seems to think of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953). And everyone agrees that Ben and Gus are very funny – Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy get mentioned — and pretty scared, though of exactly what is not quite clear, nor is supposed to be. In his biography of Pinter, Billington points out that the playwright was “radically different, even revolutionary” in wanting his audiences to complete his plays, to resolve in their own ways these irresolvable matters.

What no one can ignore are Pinter’s comments in a 1988 interview: “My earlier plays are much more political than they seem on the face of it. . . . I think that . . . The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter and The Hothouse are metaphors, really. . . . They’re much closer to an extremely critical look at authoritarian postures – state power, family power, religious power, power used to undermine, if not destroy, the individual, or the questioning voice, or the voice which simply went away from the mainstream and refused to become part of an easily recognisable set of standards and social values.”

Pinter was not admitting as much in 1962, when he made a speech that opened with a rejection: “I’m not an authoritative or reliable commentator on the dramatic scene, the social scene, any scene. I write plays, when I can manage it, and that’s all.” Perhaps it was the notion of being an authority figure that he was essentially rejecting. Then he was intent on emphasizing that another form of communication was going on beneath the words of his characters, most of which were coverings for their “nakedness”: “Between my lack of biographical data about them and the ambiguity of what they say lies a territory which is not only worth of exploration but which it is compulsory to explore.”

The Last Yankee at The Print Room

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

The Last Yankee by Arthur Miller

Directed by Cathal Cleary
Sept – Oct 2013
The Print Room

The Last Yankee at The Print Room

THE LAST YANKEE
Matilda Ziegler as Patricia and
Paul Hickey as Leroy
© Ellie Kurttz

The Last Yankee began life as a twenty-minute piece about two men waiting in the visitors’ room of a large state mental hospital in a nice New England town. It featured in a one-act play festival at the New York Ensemble Theatre in 1991, and its good reception there prompted Arthur Miller to expand it to two acts for productions in New York and London in 1993. But perhaps Miller’s most significant

Alexander Hamilton and Arthur Miller’s The Last Yankee

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

The Last Yankee at The Print Room

THE LAST YANKEE
Matilda Ziegler as Patricia and
Paul Hickey as Leroy
© Ellie Kurttz

I sat down to write programme notes for The Print Room’s production of The Last Yankee today, determined to fit in all this cool stuff I had just learned about Alexander Hamilton, a founding father that I really knew nothing about, except that he got killed in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.  But not a word about

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