Posted by: stelladuffy | August 22, 2010

The Author/Edinburgh

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.


Responses

  1. Great reflections rich with on-the-pulse observations and critical cross-references Stella – thanks for this (and the post on facebook that found me to it). Fuel and nourishment for my essay writing thinking (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors. Brain full of too many words from study.) And I agree with so much of this: young/new performance makers take note! (translation: memo to self – enjoy and watch that glorious getting carried away.) How much you know. How generous of you to put it out for the rest of us to take from. Thank you. Hugs. (too many brackets in this comment.) xx
    Do you know if The Author is returning to London?

  2. Are you aware that at least one of the walkouts from The Author is scripted? In fact if I remember rightly from the play-text it might be two walkouts.
    When I saw the play at the Royal Court a year ago the effect of the walkout was undermined by being performed by a very recognisable off-duty Royal Court usher.

  3. Hi Stella,
    Just want to say thank you too. It’s great to read your considered response and rich thoughts on the work, your continued reflections some days after seeing and hearing it and being there. I am glad that it felt like a conversation, and am glad to read that in some ways that conversation seems to be ongoing.
    Mark Trezona! No plans to return to London as yet, but you can see it in Brighton from the 8th to the 10th of October. OK. Plug over. My apologies.
    Best wishes,
    Andy Smith (a smith)
    Co Director, The Author

  4. Mark – x

    thanks Andy. how cool to make something that stays with people …

    Tim – I saw one walkout in Edinburgh and it felt like it was scripted (and the script confirmed that), though I also wondered if it wasn’t … I’m guessing when half a dozen leave it’s not quite the same thing!

  5. How interesting – I didn’t know there were scripted walkouts. I do remember (at the Royal Court) that some people left very early in the piece, before any violence or anything conventionally offensive. I assumed they were just bored or confused by the unconventional structure, and by the long wait before anything (apparently) “happens”. Do the scripted walkouts take place early or late in the performance?

  6. I have no idea. only one person left when I saw it, and that was early on, and there is a mention of that in the script.

  7. In my opinion and interpretation, the reason for the scripted walk out is to remind the audience that they have a choice – to stay or to go! Taken from the website http://www.newsfromnowhere.net/shows/the-author.html – “I have the choice to continue. I have the choice to stop.”

  8. yes, I thought it was for that too. but clearly I didn’t say so with any clarity, thanks for adding!
    x


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