Saturday 5 June 2010

Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think of You - New Wolsey Studio (Pulse '10)

If I felt bad for not being charmed by Jonathan Young in Reykjavík, I was positively mortified to discover I didn’t especially care about Molly Naylor. Ms Naylor happened to be on one of the tube trains which was blown up in the 7/7 attacks on London. She escaped without apparent physical injury, but it seems her ability to say anything straightforwardly was irreparably damaged.

The ghastly fact at the centre of Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think of You is that being at the centre of horrible carnage doesn’t make you any more able to write or perform.

Naylor’s chosen style for her (again, entirely solipsistic) monologue is a kind of twee poetry-of-the-streets. She is a mistress of the misplaced simile. For every thing she names, she seems compelled to find half a dozen examples of things that aren’t in the least bit evocative of the first thing to liken it to. Her metaphors sound like they’ve all been stolen from Massive Attack records and reapplied at random to whatever she happens to come across. Her delivery is faltering, mostly lifeless, and labours the “poetry” of the piece so much that it probably sounds a lot worse than it is.

The story itself isn’t without interest – of course we’re ghoulishly drawn to tales of what happened to the people who were on the tubes that were blown up. But by dint of forgoing reportage, having absolutely no eye for what about her situation is interesting, and dressing it all up in this twee poetry the overall effect is (on a Far Lesser Scale) as if Primo Levi had written Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats instead of If This is a Man.

The pity is that Whenever I Get Blown Up... (and, yes, the title’s in the show) lessens what happened on 7/7, reducing it to a twee narrative of a flaky twentysomething who was “on a quest to make her life just like the movies”, who had “encountered a series of reality checks epitomised by dead-end jobs, disillusioned characters and the immeasurable cynicism of her generation” (thanks, programme blurb), just getting out of Stoke Newington after the explosions, moving to Wales for a bit, breaking up with her boyfriend and then going back to live at her parents’ house.

Yes, that’s probably exactly what happened. But, if anything, this show puts any degree of empathy or understanding further from out grasp at the end than it was when we entered the theatre. The fact of the matter is, unclear writing and poor poetry can distort the attempt to transmit information, meaning and emotion. No matter how real and urgent the creator’s subject is, if they fudge the medium, then the message will never materialise.


Ian Shuttleworth said...

The central question that needs to be faced by all solo showcase/therapy shows: Why should we pay to watch you dealing with your issues... or, worse, not dealing with them?

Andrew Haydon said...

In scrupulous fairness, I really wouldn't say this was "therapy". Leaving aside the 7/7 issue, it's basically just bodged travel-writing. And re: the 7/7 bits - in her defence, she really doesn't milk them for sympathy or dwell on the experience (at least, not straightforwardly enough that you get any sense of how she really feels). This is just not very good writing delivered by the writer. In additional fairness, I didn't pay, but good point, I'd have probably been a good deal more savage...