Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Currently my days are largely obsessed with the progress of MASCARA: we now have a publicity shot, thanks to Hen & Chickens beer garden and a sunny day. I'm still overwhelmed by how much as a writer I can learn from these rehearsals as each scene is tried out in different ways ~ tenderness/anger, fun/thoughtfulness, momentum/stillness ~ to vary the light & shade and find the shape. "Don't give too much away too soon - surprise the audience sometimes," is one directorial guideline. Actors paraphrase their script to find the subtext, intentions are discussed and lines tweaked with scalpel efficiency. It's a fascinating insight into the process of bringing a play off the page into performance, exhausting as well as exhilarating.

And turning elsewhere: Tim Clare brought his touring show How to be a Leader to the monthly Word of Mouth event in BOV Basement. There as six rules, apparently, from the satirically plausible to the sublimely ridiculous, all wittily expounded by Tim with ruthless certainty and powerpoint presentation. I especially liked the Margaret Thatcher rap ("Iron lay-dee? ~ do your own fucking ironing...")
Over in Bath, it was interesting for Rosie & I to see Alliance at the Rondo, since this set of 6 short plays were all penned by the Bath scriptwriting group, curated by David Lassman and directed by Hannah Drake. The quandary set was "co-operation in the 21st Century - is it possible?" and writers' responses ranged from competition between job interviewees to survival instincts afloat after a shipwreck. Some fantastically strong acting ~ step forward Oliver Millingham ~ provided plenty of laughs in several of the pieces and I especially enjoyed the story of the unstable Occupy undercover agent.

Terrific hiphop dancing in the Egg foyer before the night's performance of DNA. Hull Truck has Arts funding and writer Dennis Kelly has won awards, so I’m confident they'll easily withstand carping so.... for me the first few words (“Dead! uttered repeatedly like the opening expletive of Four Weddings & a Funeral) were the highlight of the show. It's a tale of school bullying off even the Daily Mail scale, resulting in an apparent murder and a complex evasion, provided by a morose and munching mute with a mind worthy of Miss Marple, which leads to The Cops fingering an innocent fat postman. The plot fails the first credibility test (ie what happens when suspect produces alibi and gives a description of the missing boy's associates who foistered the fake evidence on him), but more importantly the characters are neither credible nor empathetic, and the torrential banality of the dialogue made the Revenger's Tragedy seem like a haiku. Quite well performed, though, and striking set.

Still in Bath, something really good to end with: Sarah Ruhl's play In The Next Room, the third in director Laurence Boswell's American season at the Ustinov, is inspired by early medical treatment for female hysteria.It's aptly subtitled The Vibrator Play and the equipment in question may look like a primitive dental drill but it's capable, sometimes with human intervention too, of delivering sexual ecstasy on the scale of Barbarella's pleasure machine. Everyone in the story is in some state of yearning and denial, and all in differently comical ways find relief with this scientific equipment, sometimes in hilarious tableaux of suppressed emotions. Engaging characters and great dialogue, as well as deeper emotional and social strands in the narrative, ensure this is so much more than a sexy farce, and the ending is bold, beautiful, and surprisingly touching. It's fabulously well acted, superbly dressed, and the splendid double-decker set is simply inspired. Two and a half hours of sheer enjoyment: five stars, at least.

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