Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night set in a 1960s Soho nightclub sounds a jaunty idea and I had high hopes of this production by Frome Drama Club, usually never less than competent. Sadly, purple tie-dye does not a Viola make, and the bullying aspect of this drama became, rather than Sopranos-style tension, an epidemic of pinching, punching, happy-slapping that even included Orsino flooring Olivia so violently her subsequent request that he call her 'sister' must have sounded alarm calls in Social Services. Even good acting - Malvolio as a lanky Gollum, the pragmatic fool Feste - couldn't create characters to satisfactorily survive this directorial savagery.

I didn't know what to expect from Dracula staged as a musical at the White Bear theatre in Kennington by Loveless brothers writer/director Chris and composer Alex... a comedy, maybe? (Wiv a littul bit of blood, a littul bit of blood, you can let temptation drip right in...) Not so. It was stunning. From the wilds of Transylvania to prim Victorian London, the drama was darkly bloodstained and biting. Piano and cello enhanced a mesmeric mood, with every element for a gothic fantasy glowing through: madness, lust, the fear that immortality is worse than death itself and that love can seem the deepest abyss of all. Songlines simmered: Love is a knife that carves your life. Faithful to Bram Stoker, the production still managed to find twists in the story, and played grim torchlight on undercurrents of brutality posing as medicine and morality. There's an amazing scene as the men, outraged by the transformation of their women into vampiric seducers, form an armed posse and thunder through the forest, the vampire as their quarry, like any group of self-righteous fanatics witch-hunting the outsider who threatens their supremacy. Brilliant. I'd go to see anything by Fallen Angel Theatre Company now.
Pix by Michael Brydon, more about the production here

I'm writing a play at the moment - I don't usually admit to writing anything until it's finished & safely published, so acknowledging this is a strange part of the process - and therefore collecting comments on drama from every source I come across, as well as my dramaturgy (wonderful word, too) mentor, playwright Steve Hennessy. Like this from Tony (Mark of Cain) Marchant in an RT interview: "I don't think there should be any taboos. The object of drama is to illuminate and to explore - it's a writer's job to make people think harder." Finding this week's BIG ISSUE is a playwrighting special, I turned the pages avidly with highlighter poised. Here's a collection of write-bites from the mag:
"What makes good drama? Pushing the creative boundaries" - this is agent Mel Kenyon- "the stage should be about metaphor rather than literal recreation." Zia Trench of Zeitgeist Theatre Company believes: "If theatre wants to grow more of an audience, it's got to rethink just about everything", and there's frustration about the moribund state of theatre among most interviewees. "Shakespeare is all well and good but we get 2000 scripts a year from unknown writers" says theatre director Lisa Goldman, lamenting that there is no funding to produce them.
Patron Joachim Fleury doesn't want theatre "a formaldehyde form of art - museum pieces resuscitated ad infinitum." James Phillips urges other directors like himself to relish the risk offered by new writing: "I mean we know Twelfth Night works, don't we?" (see above, James...)
An overall theme emerges: face the fear and do it anyway. "The most important virtue for a writer is determination" concludes the editorial.
True for any writing, any media - and especially with difficult stuff. I was talking this week with Malinda Kennedy, therapist and poet, whose experience has convinced her that long-term anxiety = suffering that's not been expressed creatively. But, she cautions, personal outpourings are not art. “Most people feel so good about the outpourings they think it’s a novel - it’s a poem - it’s a play! Is it heck. Now starts the crafting.”

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