A Certain Confusion

Thoughts of a writer of sorts

Month: February, 2010

Money and audiences

So my previous post this morning was supposed to be about Money, but I got distracted and ended up displaying huge ignorance by semi-defending a book I haven’t read for at least ten years from the well-considered thoughts of two people whose theatre practice I admire – if sometimes from a distance.

I wanted to tell you about Shunt’s new show, Money, and the peculiar nature of the audience who helped create a performance of it last Friday.

A note on the show first: unlike (m)any of Shunt’s previous shows, Money is not ashamed to tell the story – a story based on L’Argent by Emile Zola. I haven’t read L’Argent, but I have recently finished L’Oeuvre (The Masterpiece) and strongly recognised Zola’s hand in the narrative. On the surface, however, I didn’t detect what Shunt had intended to add to the story they were telling, and I think that is important in adaptations – stories are vehicles, even for their creators, and vehicles have to go somewhere (by definition) and the destination is always different.

I must mention the extraordinarily beautiful and overwhelming design of the show, which seems to be the its showcase centrepiece. You might almost think that the show exists to show off the design. And there’s nothing wrong with that, although I think you can do that and add depth to a story as well. Maybe it was me who was superficial and missed the depth while I was enjoying being manoeuvred through and around and up and down the grinding gears of the Machine.

So, aware that it might be hard to know from what I’ve written so far, I will say that I did enjoy the show and not just because it was nice to a) be in a theatre again and b) see old friends and erstwhile collaborators doing good things in said theatre.

But this was a Friday night, late show, and apparently notorious for those members of the banking world who temporarily descend into the Shunt experience looking for what? Money, I suppose.

There was a mean streak underscoring the audience that night. In an immersive / interactive show such as Shunt are wont to make, it has to be acknowledged that the audience has more responsibility for the performance than in a sit-down, shut-up and watch type theatre. It seems some of our lovely banking fraternity / sorority regularly decide to get high (on what, I couldn’t tell you) before seeing the show and come with the intention of pushing the show. I suspect it has been recommended to them as a surreal experience, one possibly enhanced by chemical consumption, and so they come with the expectation of tripping.

They are certainly not a BAC audience, who know their responsibilities and take them just a little bit too seriously (I think most of them want to be part of each theatre-making company as professional or maybe consultant ‘audience’, which I find suspicious and unentertaining) for my liking [disclaimer: I haven’t been to BAC for a few years so tell me off if I’m mistaken or just out of date]. No, these bankers want to take advantage of their invitation to interact and see if they can push the show over.

They are like children whose play inevitably reaches a state of breaking toys for no apparent reason.

And like small children, the b(w)ankers’ concern is entirely for their own entertainment. They regard the show as being a private entertainment, in fact, with the other audience members performing their role as the offended ‘straights’, outraged at the wankers’ behaviour. What a hoot!

Empty spaces

Last week, Sophie and I flirted with freedom from the childcare routine and went to the theatre. “The theatre” is a funny phrase. “A theatre” would be more accurate. Or actually, “a former factory that is being used as a theatre” is unhelpfully precise.

Thinking about descriptions of the relatively new Shunt space reminds me of various people who have recently been criticising Peter Brook and his famous Empty Space. (Another mention here.) I haven’t seen 11 and 12, but I have seen a couple of Brook’s other recent pieces of theatre and I have enjoyed them. Now I’m not going to defend his place in the hagiography of contemporary British / actually-kind-of-French theatre, but I suspect some reactions against The Empty Space (pub. 1968) are more about kicking against any perceived institution of the establishment, especially when that institution has aged and by dint of being an institution, can no longer rebel but must conform to its own (too-well established) rebellion.

I seem to remember at least buying a copy of the book when at drama school, which indicates I probably read it around that time too. Nothing beyond the title has remained in my consciousness and I’m damned if I’m going to re-read it now. So forgive me if I’m being ignorant. But I think to criticise it 42 years after it appeared by taking the ’emptiness’ of the ‘space’ as literal is to relax in the frothing jacuzzi of now and forget about the plumbed-in pipes of past that filled it. I consider Brook’s ‘observed emptiness’ to be about the potential of theatre to fill spaces, and for the practitioner to select what fills the space, rather than throwing anything and everything into the mix in the hope of achieving completion.

Sitting back now and saying, ‘well of course, there’s no such thing as a (cultural)vacuum, so take your empty space and breathe it till you choke, Brook, baby’ is in danger of missing the point. A point. A former idea that is being used as a point.

Lost books

There came a point, after my parents had separated and after I had graduated from university and formally left home and after several years after that, in fact, when my father wanted to sell our last ‘family’ home and I had the opportunity to look through all of the stuff remaining in ‘my’ bedroom.

I remember there being lots of books. I was one of those children. Books on bookshelves, books stashed in drawers and piled high upon each other in cupboards and wardrobes. I gathered books like other boys collected bruises. Kids’ books, grown-up classics, sci-fi….

On coming back to them in the brief interlude before the house-clearance people would dispose of everything, I saved precisely none of these books – one of the best decisions I have ever made.

For now those books constitute an invisible library of lost books – and this library, almost Borgesian in its non-existence – is a thing of great beauty.

Having been in our new home for nigh on six months now, one of the best things Sophie and I have achieved is to commission and have installed several bespoke bookshelves (made by a local maker called Mark Cannon). These are fine things: hand-crafted from beech wood, they will never buckle or bow, no matter how many volumes of art history or hard-backed Swedish sagas are set upon them (defiantly in no particular order).

And this wonderful library of Sophie’s and my extant books is also beautiful. But the library of my lost books is enhanced by not having to exist and by the number of books in it being at the whim of my memory (if I forget them, perhaps they have been borrowed?) and by the nature of the books being as I wish to remember them and absolutely unverifiable.