Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"The cats have come in on the side of the French," warns the old lady in the cottage far away, “They’ve been killing babies in China.” Joan is becoming petrified: “I didn’t know what side the river was on. The Japanese are working with gravity – who’s going to mobilise darkness, and silence? That’s what worries me.” It's the final scene of Caryl Churchill's extraordinary absurdist, and perhaps prophetic, play Far Away at Bristol Old Vic. The story starts with eerie, near-credible menace, proceeds with futuristic dull horror, and ends in total paranoia with no-one left to trust, not even the ospreys. Not even the grass. And it's totally brilliant theatre. One of the most shocking scenes for me was the aftermath of the hat parade when, back in the millinery factory, Joan muses "It's such a pity the hats have to be burned, along with the bodies." She learned that level of denial about atrocities from childhood, and the play ends abruptly on the image of water lapping around her ankles, like the blood in the shed she mustn't speak about when she was a little girl.
So what's it all about? There's a 'conversation' after every performance on issues raised in the play. Max Stafford-Clark, hugely respected theatre director, was talking about his professional relationship with the writer on Monday when I went. Caryl, he confirmed, is passionately political and since she realised a left-wing feminist humanist can't change the world her plays have become increasingly elliptical. So if theatre doesn't change the world, what's it for? Max answered immediately. "To entertain and provoke us on the way. We tend to despise the middle-aged, middle-class, audience that most of us are-" ("I love that audience," murmurs BOV artistic director Tom Morris, sitting beside him) "-and people are always saying, you are preaching to the converted, but what’s the alternative? Yelling at the unconverted?"
The production is on till June 9th. Brilliant acting, wonderful direction, fantastic set, and a script I would have listened to in total darkness and still been totally rapt. Go see it if you can. It's funny, too, honest...

And finally: my friend James Nash, one of our premier Northern poets, generously agreed to let me use one of his new poems on my blogsite. (scroll down, it's on the right below the links). It was on his facebook page with this picture so I've nicked that too.

Next posting will be from Skyros, where the forecast for next week is 32 degrees of sunshine....

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