Notes on the use of pre-show music - part 3: Black Watch by Gregory Burke (currently at the Barbican) is preceded by very loud pipe and drums and sweeping spotlights - apeing a military tattoo. It worked for me, but, when the show started by immediately going into another sound effect, I found myself wishing there had been a nice long silence during which I could have slipped into the world of the play. Silence is at the heart of theatre (even in a show as ear-bleedingly loud as this) and, given the chance, pre-show music can actually emphasise it. Great bagpiping near the end, though.
"Rarely have I felt less inclined to clap at the end of a play. Not because Relocated (written and directed by Anthony Neilson at the Royal Court) didn't merit appreciation - far from it - but because as the house lights went up it was like emerging from a dream. And applauding your own dream feels like a very odd thing to do.
I really like Neilson's work. He wrote an article a while back about the playwright's imperative to entertain and he certainly does that - even when, as in Relocated, the material and production is profoundly unsettling.
I don't know how big a part improvisation plays in his (he starts the rehearsal process without a text) but the end result is remarkably polished.
Relocated also benefited from being in the theatre upstairs at the Court rather than the main house. Very claustrophobic and a great use of sound and light (or, more accurately, dark).
If you go, try to avoid reading about it first. More than many plays, I think, it will work best when it creeps up on you.
Update (25/06/08): I really liked Neilson's response today to Michael Billington's one-star review in The Guardian. (What he was too modest to mention is that almost all the other reviews were positive.)
"Billington speculates on my play's "general thesis" and finds it wanting. He also had "intellectual doubts" about my play The Wonderful World of Dissocia, which he took as an argument "that there is something life-denying about the curative treatment of mental disorder". In fact, I am unequivocally in favour of clinical treatment, and for good reason: I have seen it work. Dissocia sprung from an impulse to understand patients' resistance to medication. I saw no need to dramatise my own opinions, precisely because they are so widely held.
This is the great danger of the play-as-thesis. It assumes that the play is an expression of the playwright's character. And, since playwrights desire approval as much as the next person, it leads to dishonest and complacent work. A play should reflect life as the playwright sees it - not as they, or anyone else, wishes it to be. If one sees a world in which there are no permanent truths, it is dishonest to fabricate them for the sake of approbation. Worse, it is a dereliction of duty. A play-as-thesis is by nature reductive, an attempt to bring order to the unruliness of existence. But bringing order is the business of the state, not the artist."
There's a moment in Michael Frayn's Afterlife, when, moments before the opening of his new play, an anxious Max Reinhardt grips the hands of his actress mistress and exclaims, "Why do we put ourselves through it?!"
Well, if Frayn himself shares similar nerves he hides them well. He was sat a couple of rows behind me at the Lyttelton tonight and looked as calm as anything. Perhaps he was saving his sweaty palms for press night tomorrow.
The play, a superior theatrical biopic, has all the craft you'd expect from Frayn but didn't seem to take the audience with it in quite the way you might hope.
I pretty much agree with John Morrison's assessment on his blog.
"Telling a life on stage means chucking out the unities of time and place and plot in favour of a structure which is more narrative than drama. Some people like nothing better than episodic novels and biographies turned into stage plays, but for me they never really work. The minor characters tend to buzz in and out like flies and too much hangs on the central protagonist, who often seems to have little inner life. The relationships that develop are too fleeting and one rarely gets the sense of a single dramatic choice or decisive moment that provides a hinge for the play."
This year I've accepted defeat in the battle against snails and have planted nothing. Fortunately brambles continue to spring up all over the place, so we should have plenty of blackberries. Maybe I'll get some nettles, too.