Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Our Carnal Hearts – Summerhall

[seen 18/08/17]

Playing at 11a.m., on a day that I was prepared to swear blind was a Sunday, Rachel Mars’s Our Carnal Hearts is basically church. (Yes, I am just going to read this whole thing through my gentile filter*. Because that’s what everyone does anyway, right? And changing my filters would be more ethically dubious (and unsuccessful) than just carrying on as normal, so.) It’s got a choir (music by Louise Mothersole, heavily influenced by Philip Glass?). It’s got hymns (well, Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’). And it’s got a sermon. Of sorts.

What’s interesting is what the sermon actually is. There are basically two ways you can read the show: one) taking basic message at face value; that greed, envy, avarice, etc. are basic human traits; and we should let ourselves off and not beat ourselves up too much for feeling those things; and that we should even celebrate them, maybe. Essentially the Church of Satan approach, if you will. Two) taking the show to be a slightly scattergun satire on all of the above, and seeing all politics as the politics of envy, each revolution as the product of selfishness and jealousy, and maybe even every genocide rooted in thinking someone else always seems to be better off than yourself.

It’s hard to get a real fix on which of these two messages – if either – the show ultimately believes. Perhaps the show is ultimately a piece in praise of the postmodern paradox of knowing too much to commit to either option in a binary; having strong feelings and no particularly clear outlet for them. Or, to put it another way, I’m reasonably hopeful that I didn’t just see a show in which my mate Rachel seriously suggested that we lock everyone we’re jealous of in a wooden barn and set fire to it.

I should say at this point that the show itself is also very funny, Rachel Mars is a brilliant performer, the music is lovely, and this is a delightful way to spend an hour.

But, IDK, now we live in Trumpworld, where a bunch of Charlottesville Nazis give in to their feelings of envy (all Supremacist ideologies are rooted in their adherents’ feelings of powerlessness, envy at those who they perceive to be more powerful than them, and comforting nonsense about how they are in fact “superior” to whichever group they’ve decided is more powerful than them), and where America is presided over by the most hysterically jealous and venal person it is possible to imagine, letting ourselves off for the root of our Trumpian feelings – however natural they may be – seems like it might the wrong call to me. But, as I say, that’s probably also part of what the show’s saying; by denying it’s saying it.

It’s clearly got to that point in the Fringe where I can’t deal with moral ambiguity any more. Just give me nice straightforward answers to easy questions, please.

* As it happens, I chatted to Rachel about this, after writing the above, and she told me that the structure of the piece had indeed been influenced by an evangelical order-of-service found in New York(?) when she was making the show. So, phew. Good to know my intuitions aren’t entirely religio-colonialist.

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