Do not concern yourselves, dear readers, I do not (yet) live in a fear of an axe-wielding madman – even one with a cheap and chippy chopper – pursuing me through the streets of Southampton. This risk may be real but I am already entertaining a range of other fears at my maximum capability and cannot spare the neurons needed to worry about a potential rendezvous with a big black block. If I’m being honest, I generally believe that I share my flat with my killer: though whether he will finish me off directly with malice aforethought, kill me slowly with (apparently) benign neglect or take me out in an act of terminal clumsiness, I am less sure.
Even the casual viewer of the inanities that I attempt to pass-off as insight through this platform will be aware that I go out to see live culture “quite a bit”. This has an impact on how I view live culture, as what passes for my brain habituates to the normal range of such experience. This effect seems more marked for soi-disant high culture for reasons which I am unable to explain. These days, when in the concert hall I find I want more than a nice Mozart Concert, Haydn Quartet or Beethoven Sonata: I’m looking for more challenging content to adorn the programme. I will enjoy the more classic repertoire but to pick the “gig” and devote two hours of my evening to attending, I want to be taking a bit of a risk! I’ve particularly noticed this effect in my theatre-going where I seem to be looking for an every more extreme experience.
When I started my proper, adult theatre-going a few years back, I was more than happy to devote significant time and money to going to see the classics performed in the flesh. Slowly, I sprinkled in a range of new writing and often found myself enjoying this more and new writing came to largely supplant more familiar work in my choices when picking a play. Over the last few years, I have seem some really amazing writing but the plays that stick in my mind were those that did something out of the ordinary: that spoke to me of different experiences or which expanded my idea of what could be done with theatre. However, over the years these have become more difficult to find. I also have the feeling that, as I age, my attention span is shortening: I see good review for a play that looks interesting and then see that it has a three hour run-time and find myself thinking (a) “No” and (b) “Couldn’t they afford an editor?”. I also find myself more reluctant to travel to London for theatre, and endure the extra cost and later night, particularly when the NST here in Southampton offers such a varied programme: some nights they have three pieces of theatre on the go at the same time (which is frankly unfair on a man who has perfected neither cloning nor how to successfully combine the separate memories of the clones back to the template, me – or me, or me…).
Over the last couple of years, I have been to see quite a few LBGTQIA+ themed plays on the basis that they are, to an extent, forced to tell stories that have not been done-to-death in the long history of the medium. This has proved a fairly successful strategy but I fear may be running out of steam. I was watching Homos, or Everyone In America by Jordan Seavey at the Finborough in the summer. This was staged in a version of my personal hell, viz a cross between a sandy beach and a branch of Lush – the combined prospect of sand worming its abrasive way where I’d prefer it didn’t and too much aroma in one place. However, that was not really my issue – and it was certainly novel – and the play was well-acted and entertaining. My issue arose about two-thirds of the way through when it struck me that plus-or-minus a few references to specific forms of oppression the gay-theming was slightly irrelevant and the themes of middle-class relationship angst with a bit of tragedy thrown in to heighten the emotional stakes were something I’d seen too often before.
I suppose this entirely as it should be: in most respects, in the still mostly-liberal West, a gay (or LBTQIA+) relationship should be very like any other and is likely to encounter most of the same, or very similar, issues that arise when two different human beings try to create and share a life together. There still remains very real – and currently growing – threats to any one who alone, or as part of a relationship, can be perceived in some way as not “normal”: though having just read the excellent The Unexpected Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke the range of normal that even a very thin slice of nature can provide suggests we humans are still barely paddling on the shoreline of what the animal kingdom encompasses as normal. For myself, I am a firm believer in giving more power to the elbows (or any other relevant body parts) to any group of consenting adults wishing to try any form of relationship that gives all involved pleasure, without harming others. If they are willing to try something new, rather than continue with an existing slightly-hackneyed trope, all the better!
In a related area, I am often impressed by how much effort people are willing to put into expressing their authentic selves: I haven’t even glimpsed mine from a distance and am, frankly, running out of time – perhaps I don’t have one?
Anyway, I seem not so much to have wandered but to have strode confidently off-topic. Whilst I do find myself needing an ever more powerful “hit” from a play – like some sort of addict – it does still happen. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, there are so many stories out there and only a tiny fraction have been told – often clustered around those relating to very small range of viewpoints. I have been lucky enough to see some really exciting theatre recently and often without having to travel far from home. I did go up to London to see The Jungle – booked by a friend (and so overcoming my natural inertia and the fact that it was longer than I’d normally pick) – which was a really amazing experience and with more laughs than you might expect: don’t get me wrong, I left properly harrowed by the experience. The staging, the range of faces and accents rarely seen on “stage” and the power of the story-telling all set this apart – as to an extent did the hopelessness of any practical response I felt able to provide when it was over.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Chichester to see Cock by Mark Bartlett. This had been recommended by a friend but I will admit that I may have made an extra effort to catch it given huge volume of (just barely) double entendre potential it offered for my Facebook feed. Let’s just say that I have never enjoyed 90 minutes of cock so much! It is hard (OK, I will stop now) to say why I enjoyed it so much but it provided the hit that I needed – despite minimal staging, very strict limitations on the actors and a middle-class relationships-based plot. It was also quite exciting to see some diversity in a Chichester audience and a fair wedge of young people!
Closer to home, Medusa, the show put on by the associate artists at NST and starring the incredible Elf Lyons, was amazing – and how they did it on such a shoestring budget I cannot imagine. I really hope this has a life beyond three nights at NST City. I’ve also really enjoyed the shows they’ve brought to their new studio theatre: it’s been like having the Edinburgh Fringe coming to me (not that I ever begrudge a trip to Auld Reekie). The Believers are but Brothers and Bullish stood out in a really excellent strand of programming covering a wide range of different voices and subjects. NST just need to work out how to attract a larger audience to these shows…
Last week, I saw the latest show from 1927, The Children and Animals Took to the Streets, which was just a tour-de-force of art, animation, acting and music. It managed to be clever and magical and enchanting and dystopian and so much more – and all with just three live actors. It is the sort of thing you immediately want to see again to catch some of the subtle visual treats you missed the first time round.
With 500 words looming, I should probably try and bring this discursion to some sort of conclusion. For the last few years, one of the most reliable ways to scratch my, ever harder to service, theatrical itch has been the work of the Nuffield Youth Theatre. I’ll mention their work with a couple of plays by Evan Placey (but only because they came first to my mind) but all of their work with new writing has been so good. Perhaps their most extraordinary achievement was a physical theatre rendering of the comic book Epileptic by David B: which is almost certainly like no comic book you may be imagining. This may only have happened once and on a budget that probably wouldn’t have funded a single latte – but it is one of those theatrical experiences which has stuck with me. As a result, I was really excited to discover that as part of Southampton Film Week, a series of short films produced and directed by its director, were being shown. Each covers one of Shakespeare’s better known speeches but with a change of context to make sense within modern Southampton and starring various alumni of the NYT (the full suite can be found here).
These shorts were really good and the language stands up very well to a modern re-purposing – which I guess is the mark of a great writer. The project also has the honour of being the first time that any production of any part of Hamlet has brought a tear to my eye ( and as the screening also offered an unexpected bonus of free tea and jaffa cakes, I think we can be reassured that this wasn’t just a response to some more basic biological need.) I’ve seen very good performances of the play, but generally find myself wondering how the eponymous hero survives until almost the final reel – had I been in Elsinore, he would have had an unfortunate “accident” early doors to cut down on the self-obsessed moping!
Interestingly, Nuffield (the N of NST) have more current form in making old Will more palatable. This year, another member of the team (as Curious Pheasant Theatre – no I haven’t asked him why and will admit I have been remiss in this) was involved in producing an LGBT take on Romeo and Juliet, which I saw an early version of and was among those contributing feedback. It was then taken to Edinburgh and returned for Southampton Pride, trailing glory. It worked really well and seemed to cover all the important plot, in a rather clever modern staging, and be done in 45 minutes: a lesson there for this blog, perhaps. As I heard someone comment on leaving, (I shall paraphrase) “that was great and they cut out all the boring stuff”. Certainly, a great writer does not have to be enjoyed in his (or her) full 3-4 hour authentic pomp to get a powerful message across. As the auteur behind GofaDM is far from a great writer, I shall perhaps continue to eschew undue brevity for the time being: but it does offer a target to aim for in the future. In pursuit of that aim, I’m back at Southampton Film Week tonight to see a series of BAFTA Shorts (which I believe are film-lets rather than kecks sponsored by a screen-related charity): let’s see if any good habits rub off on me…