This Saturday marked my first visit to the theatre in 2014 – more than a month since my last visit so I have no idea how I managed going cold turkey like that (though some actual cold turkey may have been involved). The gap was occasioned largely by the desperate unreliability and (hopefully associated) engineering works on the railways rendering a trip to London slightly more time-consuming than one to New York.
I resumed exactly where I left off, at the Bush Theatre. My last visit of 2013 was to see Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Ellis which was truly excellent. I have rarely laughed so much at the theatre, but it was also moving and tackled proper human stories. Even better, it did all of this in a Hull accent (or so I believe, the accents may have wandered more widely around the East Riding for all I know) which I feel is rather neglected on the stage (except, presumably, in Hull). As has become my wont with good plays at “fringe” venues I bought the play-text – which such venues tend to offer in lieu of a programme (and for much the same price) and which strikes me as a much better deal – which does provide a way of “keeping” a play which is otherwise an ephemeral experience (as DVDs of such plays have yet to become widely available – though I for one would buy them if they were).
For those who might (quite reasonably) wonder as to my credentials as a theatre critic, I would point out that my positive response to JfG was shared by several of the broadsheets (including one that included it in their top 10 of 2013) and one Gary Lineker who shared audience duties with me on the night (and who looks disgracefully youthful even at close range).
This time I saw Ciphers by Dawn King (a previous winner of the Papatango prize – always a sign of quality) which was a decent thriller and very well acted. However, it was quite eclipsed by my evening’s viewing: The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien. This was at the Gate Theatre, which those studying this blog for the associated degree will remember was the venue of one of my first theatre visits: when there was still some hope of managing my condition. The Gate puts on new (or newish) international plays (i.e. those written by Johnny or Janey Foreigner). I felt slightly guilty about not having been more often and one of the actors (half of the total, in fact) was Damien Molony who has yet to appear in a duff play (and did introduce me to 10 Greek Street), so I thought I’d take a punt. Rather pleasingly, the cost of both plays added together was less than my return rail ticket to London – which makes it much easier to be experimental. This could be considered a savage indictment on rail fares in this country (and to an extent it is), but I was on a super-off peak Travelcard, with a third off from my Network Card, so my rail fare was pretty decent value. No, in fact it is quite possible to see decent theatre very economically – my ticket at the Gate cost no more than a visit to my local multiplex – and it doesn’t have to become an addiction, so give it a try!
Anyway, back to The Body of an American: before going I knew it was about a war correspondent and would contain graphic images of the effects of war – so not an obvious source of a fun night out. There are some very visceral images and the meaning of the title becomes apparent fairly early on, but the play was quite stunning with the two actors playing a significant number of parts in a wide range of accents with only two (cheap) chairs and a lot of shredded paper snow for props/set. In some ways it is a play about itself, and I love a bit of recursion (one of my favourite elements of my Maths degree), but despite what could easily have become rather a confusing structure in lesser hands it was never anything less than lucid and often emotionally powerful. Whilst I loved the play, I didn’t pick up a play-text as the voices in my head haven’t the slightest chance of doing the play justice (that needed a tour-de-force from Messrs Gaminara and Molony) – however, I think I will have physical reminders of the play for some time yet in the form of little fragments of paper snow, despite the best attempts of the Gate to spare us (the poor actors and their loved ones must be finding paper snow everywhere). Today’s title is the only line from the play I can remember, perhaps because it was used several times. Interestingly, despite the subject matter, that night delivered my best night’s sleep of 2014 so far.
I think there might be a theme developing here – I seem to like shortish plays in a small fringe venue with a somewhat harrowing subject matter, see the excellent Unscorched as another example. Jumpers for Goalposts while it mostly lacked harrowing subject matter, but did still tackle some very serious issues. I do begin to worry that I may suffer from some sort of psychopathy – though so far this only seems to manifest at the theatre. If the blog suddenly dries up, it may be because the men (or women) in white coats have finally come for me – still, I believe Dartmoor does have a certain wild beauty and padded walls would cut down on my self-harming. Before you panic about my mental health and plan to stage an intervention (or call social services), this self-harm is caused by impacts with solid objects like door frames, tables etc as I fail to successfully navigate round them (so, I can blame no-one other than the self for such harm) and nothing more sinister (or, indeed, dexter).