I was walking down Coldharbour Lane today, on my way to a buddhist meeting, thinking (again) about The Author that I saw 11 days ago when I was in Edinburgh to see things for The Review Show. I was thinking about how honest it was, and how quiet, careful. What a joy to see a piece that wasn’t all about the dance/moves/choreography/scenery/video/music/costumes/set/design/OTHER ELEMENTS (all of which I have loved in many other shows, all of which I have loved to use myself as a writer, a performer, a director), that what I so enjoyed about this was the simplicity. And yet not simple at all , of course …
Tim Crouch (The Author author) reports walkouts from shows at the Traverse. I don’t get it. Who can possibly have turned up not expecting something different, unusual, not what they were used to?
Had they become so accustomed to shows of simulated murder/rape/attack/violence/beating/passion/desire/sex/hunger etc etc, that to merely hear and see and sit with people TALKING ABOUT some hard stuff was too hard? Were they not interested in seeing real people they were right beside being both themselves and themselves in character? How can that not be interesting, at least?/engaging at best? And hopeful … that maybe we can talk. That maybe we can engage.
I was walking down the road thinking that, at the hardest-to-listen-to parts in the show, it stuns me that Tim wants to use his own name, to be actor/not-actor, author/not-author at that point. I think it’s great. It is brave, but ‘brave’ is so over-used in our culture, an actor is ‘brave’ to play gay, look ugly, put on weight for a part, get skinny for a part etc etc. To align your self, your own name, the words that define you to the world, with something very very hard … I think that’s properly brave.
I saw too much stuff in Edinburgh that believed itself to be interactive but was actually simply active. I love Lifegame, working in it, on it, for the interactivity, for (mostly!) knowing where it’s ok to talk amongst ourselves on stage, to talk to the audience, and where it’s intrusive, not generous to them. New friend Brian Lobel’s take on the cancer show was hugely interactive and also gentle, very sweet, very tender. Old friend Kath Burlinson’s company doing Wolf were certainly interactive and careful of their audience, kind to us, generous. I’d expect no less, with Kath and Peta Lily and Lewis Barfoot in that company. I saw a much-feted, very youthful company doing a lot of bouncing around in a ‘found space’ (dear God, Punchdrunk have a lot to answer for … not their fault of course, but ANY non-proscenium arch space does not necessarily a theatre make, folks) and while they were certainly a brilliant ensemble and interesting for a bit, they were doing their interactive theatre AT us not FOR us, and certainly not WITH us. (And they went on about 35 minutes too long.)
The Author felt like a conversation I was witness to. As I was there to review I chose not to engage – publicly, vocally, aloud – as an audience member (though I did sit beside Tim, who I’d only met on facebook until then, and we did talk, and I sat across from Chris Goode who I know and I very much enjoyed watching him watching us). I think I might have done so more had I been there ‘just’ as a punter. Maybe. I loved being talked to by actors who didn’t have to play the lie that they didn’t know we were there, right beside them, where they could reach out and touch us, we could touch them. I liked not knowing what was real and what was not. I liked very much (and I might well be projecting here) what I perceived to be the questioning of the value of those plays that represent violence and degradation in an uber-realistic manner and think it’s so damn ‘brave’ to do so. (Or maybe that’s just what I chose to hear as I find them so … weird. It’s fake. It’s not real. Why pretend it is?)
And, yes, conversely, as someone who also LOVES theatricality (done well) for its own sake (I’m very happy in a big old fashioned musical audience for eg), I also really enjoyed the simplicity. (Quite possibly the seeming simplicity, I doubt it is simple at all for the performers.)
But I really don’t know why people would leave. What they thought they were going to when they bought a ticket that the finished article diverged from so greatly.
I think audiences often don’t like sitting in the light, even gentle light. I think they do want to be left alone to feel/think/be, sit back and allow it (us) to wash over them. And I think that’s fine, I think there is room for all kinds of theatre. What astonishes me is that anyone could read about this play and chose to book a ticket and then turn up and be so offended/bored/horrified/unsettled they’d leave. What on earth did these people think they were going to see?
Hell, maybe they actually did want the blood and guts and the rape and the fucking and the fake-fights, all of it so carefully staged. If they did, then perhaps it’s best they do leave the seats for those of us more interested in the conversation.
Of course, I am a writer, primarily. For all that I do, and enjoy doing, all those other things that go into making theatre, and have done for coming up to thirty years, I am mostly a writer. And I started working in theatre because I love words, because I learned all of Hamlet’s soliloquies by heart and paced up and down our Tokoroa kitchen at the age of 14 saying them to myself because I liked how the words sounded, what they said (it was many years before I saw them ‘done’), I liked how they felt in my mouth. So I guess the thing that has stayed with me most about this piece is that it is about words. Not great big punchy acting or bravura stage fights or amazing design or astonishing music or stunning choreography or any of that stuff that is, often, also lovely. And often, it also takes over, and the story is left behind. Or there never was a story to start with.
I liked that the story had nothing to hide behind. And neither did the makers.
That’s where the bravery is.
other stuff – it was nice being in Edinburgh and not there to do a show. Though I was doing The Review Show, and I did get to play impro with the big boys (aka Rupert Pupkin Collective), but you know, not my show, not a show I had to worry about. It was astonishing and exhausting to see 16 shows and 3 exhibitions in three and a half days. It was, as it always is, very enjoyable drinking with old friends, and some new. I liked seeing Michael Legge in a musical, and watching him not shout. Amazing. I really enjoyed Josh Howie’s show even though his mother Lynne was cringing beside me (or maybe that was part of the enjoyment, personally, I was cackling.) I really enjoyed Doon Mackichan’s show too, a different/not-different take on the cancer show and def worth seeing. Kevin Eldon was very funny, Alison Goldie was gorgeous as always, Phil Whelans was splendid, niece Monique and great-nephew Mordy were both delicious, Karen Koren was kind as always, Suki and Muki were lovely, the impro men generous and warm, and The Review Show people great to do live telly with. All good.
And I still don’t know why anyone would walk out of The Author.