Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mark Ravenhill's OVER THERE


Find a couple of charismatic young identical twins and why not write a play for them? If you need a theme that mixes in a little conflict and ups the intellectual quotient, why not have them come from, and somehow represent, East and West Berlin, Communism and Capitalism? And since our twins are pretty vital and attractive, have fun with them. Why leave them clothed if you can strip them naked? Have them perform in Y-fronts or shiny grey suits without shirts; they can take it in turns to vamp it in drag as a Californian blonde; they can give us a touch of Wedekind's Spring Awakening (I still remember going with my mother to this years ago) and facing the audience while masturbating; cover one in food and have him jump about in a pig mask; chuck in a little murder and cannibalism and achieve a full-frontal sex change if you know how; for a pleasing gay finale, round things off with two young men kissing.
Mark Ravenhill gives us this in his play Over There at London' Royal Court Theatre. It's a brisk one-act show of 75 minutes, the actors entering a closed bright box of a stage through the audience. The Sunday Times just gave the show a snotty review, as can be their wont with anything challenging, and it's true I came out of the show pretty unilluminated about the East West divide. But then I'm getting on and lived through it. I worked in Berlin when the Wall surrounded its western part, wrote my first novel about the experience, and had friends on both sides. I didn't expect to learn much. However I have been struck by how many educated folk of about twenty years old are clueless about such matters as the iron curtain. It's not just us in the west. A Czech told me about her sister, also aged about twenty, who is unaware that life was once divided on east/west lines. So this play has value for those as young now as the characters depicted.
For me, the evening was entertaining. I rolled with the fun of it. The whole show ran at a cracking pace ... one actor walks one quick circle and we've jumped miles or years. There's lots of theatrical fun - a sponge standing in for a child; a bag of flour for a man's cremated ashes; lines of dialogue are voiced simultaneously by both actors; toppling cardboard boxes into the audience is the wall falling down; a song is belted out through a megaphone to baked bean tin accompaniment while both men enjoy a wild dance; another fine acoustic song is delivered to guitar while the twin covers himself in food. It's all lively stuff. The audience offered few laughs because it was all so fast and curious, sometimes macabre and weird, but it was good black comedy even so.
I'm learning to leave my critical faculties at the door and go with the flow. Luke and Harry Treadway were a great double-act, and Ravenhill and they served each other well.

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