Monday, January 30, 2012


Bookending the Faust (the New York Met's take on Gounod/Barbier et Carré after Goethe) were two plays which made that production (bubbled away in the moral vacuum of a dream sequence where the solution to anything is, well, anything) seem to be bordering on banal. The music is French sensuous, and the story one of mendacity, lust, passion and scandalous impregnation. Oh, the potential. Without my theatrical counterpoints, I might have been more easily satisfied dramatically, as I was musically.

Because it's rather nice about now to slot a picture into a post, here's the never married Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with his friend if not soul-mate Friedrich Schiller, both standing tall outside the Court Theatre in Weimar.

Goethe holds a laurel wreath, his hand gently resting on Schiller's shoulder. The bond is palpable.

Now, here's the post.

Cheek by Jowl have a travelling global roadshow of " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore", after the Jacobean John Ford - a blood-revenge drama of incestuous pregnancy, forced marriage, self-poisoning by switched chalices, and finally cardiac evisceration - take that you whore! With the touring British production, director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Promerod deliver a stylish contemporary update of an oldie-but-a-goodie. The setting is Annabella (sister of Giovanni - you know the rest) sitting on her bed, laptop open, ipod plugged in as the audience enters the theatre, and her world. The story was well delivered, although I found much of the dialogue hard to catch, not least because of the strong contemporary cadence of the British english, a broken jerking legato-less style, and the slight voiced Annabella of Lydia Watson. And when it was over, the blood spilt and the deed done, what pleased me was the return from off-stage of a fully alive Annabella, her hand outstretched to her brother still holding the avulsed heart.

Forgiveness I thought. Understanding. Understanding is forgiveness. How marvelous. When later I mentioned this to someone-who-knew I learnt that in fact the intent was to confirm that, yes you guessed it, it was all a dream. It does make it work, but at the same time I can't help but feel it moves the whole moral imperative to a lesser space.

This will give you the texture of the production.

Next came "Thyestes", after Seneca (the father of the revenge play) presented by Belvoir written by Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Mark Winter (the three actors) and Simon Stone (director). Thyestes is the story of the House of Artreus, as the director details (not for the faint-hearted, as Bette Davis said about old age).

Remember Argamemnon? Remember revenge begets revenge? Well, Argamemnon is the son of Artreus!

In this piece of contemporary theatre where there is no escape from the immediate reality that this is now, they are us, we are of them, it could be me, it is me, where the script is written to be improvised each night, where all the roles are played by males, you are faced with the black comedy of the vileness of the human condition. I was stunned. They speak not the text of Seneca, but the vernacular of contemporary Australia, brilliantly using parallel circumstance on the moral spectrum to prize open the raw truth that there is no difference in degree, in time, or in place.

If you were taught at school that to covet is to steal, if you have ever wondered if to wish someone dead is to kill, if attack is attack and the slightest of same is the greatest of same, then you have some insight into how this is played out. "These myths are real". Genius in concept and execution is all I can say. And you don't have to take my word for it.

A G rated example (and there's not many of them) is the scene where Seneca writes of Pelopia, mother of Aegisthus and second wife of Artreus, having discovered the identity of Aegisthus' real father (Pelopia's own father, Thysestes - sorry, not so G rated after all) kills herself. All this is explained in surtitle text before the scene opens, wherein Pelopia (remember played by male, jeans and t shirt) sits at a grand piano which appeared from nowhere on a sparse white set with no flies and no wings, and sings (beautifully but I'm not sure what key) Schubert's 'Der Doppelgänger'.

The night is quiet, the streets are calm
In this house my beloved once lived
She has long since left the town
But the house still stands, here in the same place.

A man stands there also, and looks to the sky
And wrings his hands overwhelmed by pain
Upon seeing his face I am terrified -
The moon shows me my own form.

O you Dopplegänger! you pale comrade!
Why do you ape the pain of my love
Which tormented me upon this spot
So many nights, so long ago

The great Richard Tauber, tenor

The great Feodor Chaliapin, bass

K is home safely, and I / we are going again.


Herringbone said...

Coming across your blog has been a mental workout. Which is a good thing! My Mom was the arts aficionado in our family. She tried hard to get her fix while raising five self absorbed kids. Your writing style and thoughts have piqued my interest and have made me think about her.

Great reviews! Being in our little hermitage up here in the Great white north, it's great to see artists out there really going for it. Incredible energy. I don't understand it all. But, I'm beginning to see,that's not totally important. I think the fact that it is happening is kind of reassuring.

Susan Scheid said...

Chaliapin's singing is so gorgeous. I will think of it tomorrow when it is Schubert's birthday (the only one I remember, as it is my own . . . we shall not mention the other who shares this b'day date). Like herringbone, there is more here than I can follow at once, but so much to mine. For now, I want to say I particularly enjoyed this comment of yours: "It does make it work, but at the same time I can't help but feel it moves the whole moral imperative to a lesser space."

wanderer said...

Herringbone - exactly, it's not that important. Figuring out who all these Greeks are can be harder than getting to the bottom of who's who in Dune. But, the lessons lie in what they do to each other, and why. And not in literalness - it's about cause and effect.

wanderer said...

Ah, Susan, many happy returns whenever tomorrow is there because its tomorrow here now. Perhaps something a little less sombre for your birthday, something like this.

Susan Scheid said...

What a nice gift, which I have just come back to discover and retrieve. I do love Schubert's Impromptus. Thank you!