Thursday, October 25, 2007

Life After Scandal - Robin Soans

I've bought The Times a couple of times recently, and been surprised and weary at what a scandal rag it is. Can't we do better in this great and troubled world than find people's underwear to sniff through?
Robin Soans' Life After Scandal opened at the Plymouth Drum Theatre last night (fresh from Hampstead Theatre, the two theatres within walking distance of my homes). It's peopled by characters familiar to British newspaper readers ... disgraced politicians and peers mostly. These characters(played by a splendid troupe of actors)shared tea with the author Robin Soans and talked through the experience of riding through the aftermath of a scandal. The playwright has then removed himself, leaving the audience in his wake, characters addressing us in 'verbatim theatre', structured out of their actual words.
I'm coming to admire this form of playwriting ... all very artful and selective (while a lot is edited out, the barks of pet dogs remain in the script), while the language of course is marvellously individuated and surprisingly powerful. Lord Montagu, now eighty, speaks us through the trauma of being a jailed victim of the state's homophobic attacks in the 1950s, for example. Edwina Currie shows us the wronged woman taking revenge on her lover, the prime minister John Major. Some characters, like the couple Neil and Christine Hamilton, were very buoyant,. transcending the joke they've been forced to make of themselves in order to survive. Major Charles Ingram was somehow the most moving, still very much the major, clinging on to the pieces of a wrecked life after accusations of cheating on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire'.
It's an effort to reach into others' lives with real sympathy. The audience of all these characters, their articulacy, their sincerity, was a surprising privilege. Subtle and powerful theatre.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Plymouth, and Lizzie Roper

Some symmetry has set in. I attended the Drum Theatre here in Plymouth the night before the interview for the new post at the University. Now I've been again, on the evening of my first day in the new job. The stroll down to the theatre took just five minutes from my new apartment overlooking Plymouth Hoe - furnished at present by an inflatable bed. This is posted from my new office on the city campus. There's traffic noise outside but it's otherwise bucolic enough, looking out onto a short stretch of lawn, a fine stone wall, and trees beyond. I'm grateful for it.
The show at the Drum was Peccadillo Circus, a solo show from Lizzie Roper. She interviewed a range of folk about their sex lives. Those 90 minute interviews are edited down to 55 minutes played on an iPod strapped to her arm - she then gives a verbatim account of what they said, compete with stutters, repetitions and vocal sounds. Some verbatim theatre works by memorizing lines. This playback approach, according to Lizzie Roper in conversation afterwards, brings in an extra discipline. You can't just let your actor's mind take over, you deliver the person exactly how they appeared. 'I hear what they're thinking' Lizzie told me, inhabiting their thoughts as she delivers their dialogue.
She is clear that her role in the process includes being a writer, selecting and splicing the material - and also, I must say, conjuring it out of people. All her characters have come to see the show, and been well pleased with the representations of themselves. The hour was filled with a neat run of powerful stories, some very fine 'writing' in among the lines (though no written form of this show exists at all). Lizzie Roper was still distressed at the number who walk out in moral outrage from what has been clearly advertised in advance as a filthy show - 10 stormed out of Glasgow in the previous performance. Plymouth seemed well up for it all. The show was bawdy and brazen, but big-hearted too. With characters ranging fro the dominatrix and the gay man trawling for sex across Europe to an elderly Jungian psychoanalyst, it was surprisingly intimate and tender.