Thursday 6 May 2010

Wonder and Worship in the Dying Ward – Riverside Studios

[continued from above]

Wonder and Worship in the Dying Ward does not bode well at all.

It is a (somewhat under-rehearsed) rehearsed reading of what is apparently to be the Wrestling School’s next production. Knowing this, I wound up watching the reading in three ways at once. Because it was a rehearsed reading, two parts of my attention were the usual “radio play pictures-in-my-head” of what (for me, at least) usually turns out to be a cinematic version of what’s being read out on stage. This was quite good. Then there’s the actual fact of looking at the actual people, actually standing or sitting there in front of you with the scripts in their hands saying the words. That was basically fine too – the radio-play element mitigating some slightly – forgivably – underpowered performances. I mean, if they’ve only had the scripts for a day, then one can’t expect miracles.

But then there was the third element. The, perhaps slightly unfair, mental picture I imagined of the inevitable Wrestling School production.

I’m not sure I can think of a more damning indictment of a critic than a panning of a production that he has only imagined, and yet that’s kind of what was going on.

If I say the text is “pure Barker”, does that communicate anything? Put simply, all the elements – though largely original within the corpus of his work – seemed completely familiar. The language, obviously the language was familiar. The subjects: her arse, her cunt, the mother, the white linen, the mechanical bed, the white linen sheets on the mechanical bed, the son, the transgressive sexual act, the talk of desire, of fucking...

You get the picture.

And so, there I was, imagining exactly what it was going to look like when it returned as a full production. And in my head it looked exactly like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the actors would probably be mostly the same actors, approaching the text in mostly the same way, and wondering vaguely which middle-age actress it would be this time taking off her dress or her leather trenchcoat to reveal herself naked save for a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of high heels, and thinking, well, yes, it’s all very well being an “Artist” and, sure, Monet did an awful lot of water-lilies in his time, but, blimey, it ain’t half samey.

And I got to wondering about how much value there really was in all this thematic repetition, or re-treading or whatever it is. And I could still kind of see how, production-to-production this might feel quite absorbing to everyone involved, but then I only come and see the end result. And these end results – with notable exceptions – are starting to get to a point where – save for changes of names, and nominal changes of situations – thewy are becoming indistinguishable from one another. As if, no matter what period of history or dynamic between characters, the same soundscape will be drifting across the – inevitably war-shattered – landscape, the sharp high-pitch grasp of strings when *a moment* occurs, and a woman naked save for a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of high heels will be a constant.

At which point, even being able to focus on the particulars of this specific scenario seemed largely futile. It makes much the same noise as the last one, and that is pretty much that.

By the end of ...Dying Ward, I was quite gloomy about the prospects for the rest of the day.

So it’s good that Slowly was completely different.

Slowly might well be one of Howard Barker’s best plays. At this stage in the game it was a bit hard to tell whether I was just insanely grateful that it was at least visually different to his last umpteen productions, was only an hour long, and seemed also to be formally different to, well, pretty much everything else he’s written in the past decade...

[continues below]

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