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A bolt of shock shot through her as she lay under the weight of his silent body. The weight of the dead. The scream that followed did not come out of her mouth, but remained inside her. As it reverberated around her head, her breathing became more strained. Panic was beginning to take hold of her. In the few moments before, as he had pushed her onto the bed, his live body had held back some of his weight. Now, in death, he was smothering her. Her chest was tight. She was desperate to breathe in, but as the panic continued to surge through her, her mouth just moved like a fish breathing water. She remembered the frantic movements of his mouth as his throat had closed against the air he needed, and she gasped, raising her head involuntarily, as air filled her lungs. She saw her room, seemingly as empty as it had been when she led him into it, silently stare back at her. Then her head hit the bed again.
It was a struggle to keep her breathing steady, but not impossible. It kept her calm and the panic began to wash away. But this calm was an enemy. As she regained physical control, she woke up into the full horror of this conclusion to the past events. Her stomach tightened in a grip of nausea and she knew she had to move. She kicked her right leg up, almost like a reflex, but it was between his legs and she just felt a flash of pain in her thigh. His hands were still round her shoulders, his chin rested on her collarbone. He was mocking her by holding her this way; the body warm, the heart stopped.
Another bout of nausea crawled from her stomach to her throat. For the first time she was truly afraid. In a rage of fear, she embraced his torso tightly, and pushed the inside of her knee against his right leg. By keeping her pressure constant, she forced his body to move. Pain stirred across her body as she battled against him. Her head was enclosed by blood pounding in her ears and tears filling her eyes, as if she was losing two of her senses. She cried out, partly in misery, but partly just to hear a sound.
Now her own body was moving the opposite way, until his right leg fell over the side of the bed and his shoe thumped sharply on the carpet. That was the sound she needed to hear. She gripped his shoulders firmly and heaved his body away from her. It crashed out of her sight onto the floor. As his weight left her, she greeted an intense sense of freedom, and gave a sharp, cold laugh. She remained motionless for some minutes until she could control her breathing, and had the comforting awareness that she could hardly hear her heartbeat. There was a tickling sensation by her ears. Tears were running down the side of her head. It was a sweet feeling.
Next she had to sit up, but as she gripped the duvet with both hands, nausea flowed a third time. Saliva crept out of the corner of her mouth and down her face in a parallel flow to her tears. She wanted to wipe it away, only her fingers continued to claw the blue cotton beneath her. She had to look at him. She had to see. Raising her head slowly, she began pushing up on her elbows. She reached a sitting position, only to slump forward, her head weighing her down. Then she swung her legs across the bed and pulled herself onto the floor. She walked over to a small table, sat down at it, pulled open a drawer and took out a make-up bag.
My home is not heavenly But a house from heaven Its mat does not bid you welcome But wraps you in darkness As you wend your way nightwards.
Over the past weeks I have found myself wanting to turn away from the news and then feeling that is a selfish act. If I am going to turn away then I feel should be doing something to help which I am not.
I still own my thoughts and here are a few. As I write this 58 people are missing. The relief effort is being led by vulunteers. There is no central co-ordination point.
There is a duty of care to the firemen. I hope it is honoured. They will live with what they have seen and done for the rest of their lives, and that in turn will affect those they are closest to away from their work.
Theresa May has behaved abysmally. Corbyn and the Royal Family got out there. To say she was “too distraught” spits in the faces of those whose lives have been destroyed, who have experienced something no human should have to experience.
This disaster is becoming a symbol of how our country is divided if not broken. There is shock this happened in twenty-first century London. North Kensington has the richest and the poorest. I heard someone say people were not listened to not because of what they were saying but because of who they were. The goodness of so many individuals and communities is overwhelming, but it may not stem the anger. At worst we could witness riots. This is not a time for political point scoring. Our society has to profoundly change. Something has got to give.
Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.
And so to Chichester and back in a day for a matinee of Tennessee Williams’ 1959 play. Before I go any further I have to confess to not being a particular fan of Williams’ plays, though I understand their appeal. I didn’t know this play at all, was vaguely aware it was written when he was filling himself with high levels of alcohol and drugs, and that it is regarded as somewhat secondary to Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie.
Well I have to agree that the play has weaknesses but Jonatahn Kent’s production absolutely plays to its strengths and I found myself held by it from start to finish.
I don’t think Chichester’s thrust stage is the easiest performing area for the play, but it is a brave decision to do it in the main house because it is not a crowd-puller; it is a thoughtful choice in Daniel Evans’ first season as Artistic Director. Anthony Ward’s beautiful design is in keeps an intimacy at eye level but dominating above is a strange cloud/shroud-like construction. Sitting at the side of the stage where I was, you are aware of its length, However from the front it is foreshortened and dominates ominously and almost claustrophobically. Ward uses tall shutters at the back in such a way that their colour, movement and Mark Henderson’s light, on and through them, avoids this design as cliche.
The structure of the play is problematic. It begins with what are basically two two-hander scenes for the lead actors in which very little happens. The energy then switches as the setting broadens its social scope. The second half has a lot more characters, none of whom are drawn with much depth and most of whom have only short scenes of dialogue. There is also a broader political element here which for me doesn’t quite mesh with the overall plot.
So it seems to me that the two lead actors have to be the glue to hold the piece, and Marcia Gay Harden and Brian J. Smith absolutely succeed. I have to admit being a little weary of the tragic faded actress character which too easily can become caricature. What I really admired about Gay Harden and Smith was that they don’t overplay The Princess and Chance. Instead they have created two people who feel reachable. I believed in them both. Despite the Princess’s regular reference to them both being monsters, their tragedy was in that they were both quite human. Gay Harden’s Princess has accepted her fate – got out while the going is good – but despite her character’s alcohol intake and ability to forget what she wants to, her performance never falls into melodrama. Smith has a dull but not dead look in his eyes, and he shows the boy that Chance started out as, as still being there within him. Part of his tragedy is his inability to see it’s not just The Princess but also some of his home townspeople still care for this prodigal son. In the second half, a simmering violent tension builds but does not explode directly around the drunken Chance as I expected. It is Boss Finley’s (very well played by Richard Cordery) televised racist rally, based in reality, that is a shocking climax, shown on lowered small video screens around the auditorium, so that the audience has the chance to get watch the speech at one remove, and then powerfully witness first-hand the following onstage beating.
The last scene is weak but again Gay Harden and Smith hold it. The tragedy is as quiet as she shuts the door on her final exit. Chance’s final moments are arresting and very moving in a beautiful stage picture.
Reflecting on the play in hindsight, its inconsistencies and weaknesses in plot, structure and characterisation become more obvious. This fine production sidelines them and mines the depths of this flawed, fascinating play.
The morning after the attacks on London Bridge. A quote doesn’t seem appropriate day. I listened to Sonia Friedman on Desert Island Discs. An extraordinary woman whose life and whose work for me flies in the face of yesterday’s horror. Somehow listening to her talk just felt the “right” thing for the BBC to be broadcasting, albeit there was no change to the usual schedule.
I’m listening to and playing a lot of Max Richter’s music at the moment. His album The Blue Notes he describes as
a mediation on violence – both the violence that I had personally experienced around me as a child and the violence of war, at the utter futility of so much armed conflict.
Joe Wright’s production of Brecht’s Life of Galileo could so easily have been a disastrous overload of director-led ideas. Instead Wright (as always) has kept the text as a foundation for his interpretation and held his ever -inventive stream of audio and visual delights in tight check. It really works.
I have not read or seen the play before and was aware that the script has a lot of scientific explanation and, especially towards the end, is slightly hectoring in conveying its arguments. Nevertheless the performances from its very talented, committed ensemble of actors brought it alive and held my attention throughout. It’s easy to sit back and enjoy actors playing lots of different parts, but as part of their craft it’s damn hard work. They did an amazing job. And in so doing I realised what a fascinating play this is.
Brecht’s following of the idea of alienation – keeping the audience’s engagement as distant as possible so that it is intellectual rather than emotional – can lay traps for a director. It seems easy to throw in lots of theatrical estranging devices but the result can be irrelevant novelty. It’s tempting to swamp a weak script with stage business to keep the audience’s attention, but the fact that the production’s inventiveness supported the text upheld the strength and indeed importance of the text. The overhead mini planetarium was not constantly used, so when the projections on it did flow they were effective, especially at the very end of the play. The Chemical Brothers’ music was both loud and quiet, creating energy and a poignancy which I didn’t expect. Wright uses puppets, lighting, masks and his wheel-shaped stage (some audience members lie on cushions in the middle of the performing area and look particularly alienated in their discomfort) and it all gels beautifully.
The play is not a simple biography or history lesson, and it is passionate in its ideas and arguments of scientific responsibility, reason’s relationship with faith, the use of science in power and the dangers of oppression. The relationship of science, superstition and religion was very different in Galileo’s time than today. The Church had a complex relationship with science which arguably we have lost now. But as I watched a scene in which the Pope, wearing only white underpants is gradually dressed into full officiating attire, I remembered Pope Francis’ “gift” of his encyclical on the protection of the environment to Trump the day before – so nothing relevant there…
Well I have cheered up. Immensely. I feel like a switched has clicked in me and my sense of well-being has gone back to normal. Problems are back in perspective, uncertainty is bothering me less as I can’t do anything about it and although I have no work in September and need to find something pretty damn quick, I am not feeling anxious. Maybe I had what used to be known as a bout of melancholy. It’ll be back again at some point but that’s OK.
What frightens me is when you hear people talking about being in deep states of depression, and being so locked in that they believe they are thinking and behaving normally, even as they are considering suicide as a logical solution to their problems.
I don’t mind introspection which can be enlightening when shared, but there can be a thin line between it and narcissism.
So enough about me.
The human race is guided by myth as much as by logic, and mythology explains people to themselves more vividly than economics.
When I left home for university I had (and still have full of musty clothes) a large silver trunk. My Dad spent a long time stenciling my three initials across the top of it in red. When he finished he realised that if you added a certain letter (easily done) you created a rather unpleasant four letter word. That’s why I used to see my name written on walls a lot when I was a child.
I suffered as a child from my middle name being my mother’s maiden name. It was not hyphenated. I like that now of course but growing up with a middle surname caused endless jibes. Especially as the name is also a noun. My best friend (who is not English) to this day delights in translating the word into his own language and saying it in the middle of my two other names.
Many moons ago I worked in a box office and we had a funny names list on the wall that customers had given. Sometimes it was nigh on impossible to keep a straight face when hearing one. I so wish I had a copy of that list. I used to cry with laughter over it.
I sometimes wonder how authors, playwrights and screenwriters choose names for their creations. I guess they used to use telephone directories or obituaries. Dickens of course is one of the masters of that game. I rarely meet anyone whose name doesn’t seem to fit them, but then is that just because you rarely get to know someone without learning their name pretty quickly. Being familiar with a voice on the radio and then seeing that person’s face, by contrast, can be such a disarming and disappointing experience although Tom Wrigglesworth is the joyful exception to this rule for me.
Children nowadays have bizarre spelling variations. ( If you are an Early Years teacher, one of your main aims is to get the child writing their name as soon as possible. Advice to ambitious parents: make the name no longer than four letters and phonically regular.) I sometimes wonder if they realise children are going to become adults.
So if you met these people, what would they be like? Put an X by your favourite.