Went to see August : Osage County last night. Lovely to see the Lyttleton full, and (it looked like) a slightly younger audience than usual. Lovely too, to hear them pantomime ooh and aah at the plot twists (annoyingly I guessed, I’m always guessing*, I wish I didn’t – or couldn’t – it’s kind of like when I sneaked a look at my Christmas presents before Christmas Day when I was 7, always a bit of a let-down to have got it right). And of course it was brilliantly acted, wonderfully directed, great design, ensemble and virtuosos work etc etc … and there were loads of lines I laughed out loud at and all of that … but but but. I have to admit I was expecting more. And that’s my fault. I’ve heard about Steppenwolf (the company) for years and was expecting … I don’t know, some kind of never-seen-before fireworks, something very ground-breaking, very new. And it wasn’t. In many ways it was something very old. A well crafted play with a solid and skilled ensemble cast. And neither of those are to be sniffed at. I didn’t mind at all that it sort of started off Long Day’s Journey Into Night and then turned all George and Martha, finally reverting to any number of Tennessee Williams’. I suspect all those resonances were intentional and they added to the layering. What depressed me was where it tipped over into Baby Jane. And I’m a Bette fan, and where that happened last night it was done with just as much skill and style. And yet I find it immensely sad that we’re STILL showing/acting/presenting/writing – EXPECTING to see – men as feckless/pathetic/weak/predatory/absent and women, most especially mothers, as monsters. Last night’s audience loved the mother-as-monster. I laughed too, it was awful and funny and very pathetic/bathetic. But it made me sad as well, because I worry that beneath the enjoyment of the grand guignol, there lurks a depressing truth that men don’t much like women – and so they’re happy to see women portrayed as such even though it’s been done a million times before – and worse, women don’t much like women either. And they all blame their mother.
I did also leave wondering about US and British theatre. I wondered how believable the play would have been in (any variation on) a British accent. (August : Solihull?) When we were doing Lifegame off-Broadway with Improbable, it became clear to me that we (UK based) actors found the American cast more believable (as Americans) and they felt the same about us (when we were playing Brits). For many of us non-Americans, the American accent (wherever it’s from) is the accent of tv and film. The accent gives the acting a legitimacy. For the American cast, the variations on Brit accents had the approving stamp of centuries of theatrical tradition. We might have been hard on ourselves, but we were more prepared to believe each other. I generally make a greater leap into the realm of suspended disbelief when I hear a US accent. Funny that.
Have seen two good American plays in past couple of months, this and In The Red and Brown Water at Young Vic. I don’t believe there are no British playwrights making the same standard of work. I do believe the artistic directors and literary managers aren’t trying hard enough to either find them or fund them. (Interestingly, both these plays felt very inward-looking, into the family, into the individual relationships, into the home. Maybe the US – and the rest of us – are scared to look out right now?)
Happy New Year people. I have no real resolutions. By this time next year I’d quite like to have finished the first draft of Book 13, and there’s a play I hope to direct, one I’ve written I hope to see made, and always, always, that book-to-film pending … I’ll put the time and energy into it, let’s see what comes.
ps – for those of you who always say “I can’t seem to finish my novel/I never get past the first three chapters/I have a book to write but no time” (etc etc, and all the other excuses), here’s a New Year’s challenge : write 500 words a day, Monday to Friday, every week, maybe even on holiday. Don’t keep going back to fix it, and do plough on when you’re stuck. By 31st December 2009, you’ll have either finished, or come close to the end of, a first draft. It certainly won’t be done, and it may not even be brilliant (heh!), but you will have something solid to work on in 2010. Just a thought.
* I didn’t guess, and more importantly, didn’t expect the only plot twist that’s ever truly impressed me – in Sarah Water’s Fingersmith, which is why I still remember that feeling of shock and excitement and why I gasped out loud possibly for the first time ever over a book. (Well, I’m sure I’ve gasped in horror, but def not that time!)