Dramaturgy of Summer 2022
Dramaturgy of Summer 2022
Dramaturgy of the end of the world
The world ended in 2020. The world ended on Monday 18 July 2022. The world keeps ending. It’s too hot. Summer has been very hard for me, actually. I have struggled getting work and I have consequently struggled to find time for the things I enjoy.
When I think of the end of the world, as depicted in media. I don’t think of a burnt-out rock. I think of motion, of fleeing, of running. The end of the world is flight, when fight is no longer an option. We evolved from small, furry, scuttling things, which survived meteor impacts, ice ages, by living in the holes in rocks, in burrows in the earth. Running is what life is. If you like.
I’ve managed to survive summer, like I have every other summer before and like I will plenty more summers. I’ve kept writing, making up stories, trying to understand my thoughts by writing them down. Running is not abandoning the world; we won’t run out of world, no matter how fast or far we run. Running is passing through the world quickly, running is living because living is keeping going. When I’m writing I’m trying to digest the world.
I went on a road trip with a dear friend of mine. Nothing massive, we drove to Hay-on-Wye, we drove to Bristol. Moving, talking about writing, searching for books, drinking beer. Nothing massive but life and the sweet, reliable things I keep living for.
Dramaturgy of ‘Queen’s Dead!’
My housemates and I begin to play a game. We shout ‘Queen’s dead!’ back and forth at each other. There are very few rules, everyone wins and the game comes to a natural end of its own accord. It is objectively very funny to shout this at random intervals. If you like, our sporadic, gleeful reminding each other is a reaction to the presence of The Empire, marbled through all our lives in this wretched country, like fat through a slab of beef. (The Empire is a corpse but of course we still live our lives inside its carcass; The Empire does not define or drive us but it is inextricable from the shape of our worlds and lives; The Empire is gone, but of course it is Not Gone, of course it is Not Gone, of course it is Not Gone). I don’t think our game is sufficient to dismantle the monarchy but it is necessary to preserve our sanity while we continue to move inside it.
I don’t think this medium is sufficient to untangle the world. Essays, theatre, marches, speeches, unions. I like to think all the things I do are necessary, because they contribute in one way or another to keeping me alive, keeping me going. And if I keep going I can help those around me keep going. I don’t think theatre is useless and I don’t think reviews are useless or essays. I think all the little things are part of me trying to make the world I want to live in. I try to find hope in that.
What element of this is nourishing us? When we make a play, what parts of the production are reproducing the world? Which parts of the world do we want to keep alive, and which do we want to look harder at, shift, throw out, grow? Every rehearsal room, every new day, can be a revolution, when we ask and look for answers to the right questions.
Dramaturgy of dead bastard Enoch Powell
I read a play mid-summer, which quotes directly from multiple British political speeches – large chunks, verbatim – they are the texturalpolitical canvas of the story. The play quotes Enoch Powell, and within two weeks, while I am reading Regeneration Songs, he is quoted again. They are not gratuitous references, they’re relevant, but it’s the relevance that I find depressing. That Enoch fucking Powell provides useful metaphors to writers in the 21st century slays me. Enoch Powell is the Jason X of fascists – he keeps getting fucking resurrected no matter how tedious or unimaginative the action is. I don’t mean to make dead bastards and fascism a theme of this essay but they seem this summer to spontaneously present themselves. The fabric of our bloody world is rotten and to keep from despairing I at least must point it out.
It is very optimistic, to think of theatre as a machine for exercising our capacity for empathy. But there are other models of theatrical experience, too. It’s important, surely, to remember that fascists love theatre, too. And empathy is not intrinsic to the theatrical experience. Theatre can be used to alienate us from our capacity for love – it can be used to graft us into the identity of the state – it can be used to plant fear and to celebrate force. Theatre is older than our politics, older than names like Communism, Socialism, Anarchism. Best to be active and conscious then, when we decide theatre is the medium through which we put art into the world, the way we want to connect and communicate. What is useful to us, and what is old rubbish? What is useful, and what is dead bastard?
I want to think theatre is a machine for empathy. Or, more accurately, I want to believe theatre is a shared, ephemeral, empathic organ – soft, communal, amorphous. I want theatre to be like a heart we share, which exists only when we will it to. But we have power to will it into being whenever we need.
Dramaturgy of spinning on a pin
How many St. Louisans dance on the head of a pin? Or squirm on the point of one? I think what motivated me most of all to revew Atri Banerjee’s production of The Glass Menagerie was the chance to write ‘Atri Banerjee’s production was so good it killed the Queen.’ I think what brings me back to The Glass Menagerie again and again is that it is a play about writing plays. Tom Wingfield is trying to populate his little memory-world because he is trying to understand the real world because if he can understand how his little ghosts interact perhaps he can understand his real family and then understand himself. And the problem with Tom trying to understand himself is that he is trapped inside his own head. And the problem with us trying to understand Tom is that when we look at him we can only see ourselves.
I love the chance to write a pithy one-liner only slightly more than I love an excuse to remind you of a pithy one-liner I came up with months ago. I find a perverse joy in writing a pull quote which I know the Royal Exchange will never put on their posters (and not just because I publish my revews far too late for them to be useful in that capacity). Still, after all this time writing reviews, I haven’t shaken the feeling I am getting away with a tremendous con, an elaborate hoax and a trick, by appearing on theatre’s press lists.
In the same way, isn’t a play a wonderful trick? Tom Wingfield is of course a magician – the whole stage is a trap and a lie. Imagine people – wouldn’t they be terribly complicated? Imagine the horrifying ordeal of being known – wouldn’t that be agony? Thank goodness these images and stories are only imaginary. Goodnight.
Dramaturgy of our excessive bodies
I’ve already revewed Crimes of the Future. Bodies are not behaving; they are creating novel, unnecessary(?!) organs and people are losing the ability to feel. I’ve not stopped talking about this film, and I think it got under my skin to the degree it did because its central metaphor is so compelling, so widely applicable, keeps rearing up in everyday life because its model of fascism is so casual, so uninspected and omnipresent in its world. A body creating an extra, if benign, organ is Wrong. And when bodies behave in a way which is Wrong they must be corrected, jostled, policed.
If our bodies cannot be corralled into an acceptable form then neither can our minds. The joy of Crimes of the Future is that the world cannot be systematised – it can only be lived in and responded to. The bodies in Cronenburg’s film are monstrous: they are deviant, they are portents of a new world, they cannot be understood, although space can be made for them, if only we choose.
Isn’t it funny, that theatre so often must be live, but also beyond the rehearsal room has to be fixed? I’ve been doing a lot of creative facilitation lately: running writing workshops and creative conversations. I have begun saying ‘Facilitating workshops is the art of abandoning the plan’. When I devise a workshop, I will have a very clear idea on paper of what might happen. When I enter the room that plan becomes a flimsy suggestion, which even the weather that day could derail. But I enjoy that chaos, I live for it. I do wish for more chaos in theatre, too.
Play which is the end of the world: in which the end of the world is the same as the start of the world and the middle of the world; in which we remember that even during disasters we do what we always do, we talk to those we love, we try to keep abreast of things; in which when life ends it does keep going in some way; in which getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, is the apocalypse; in which the end of the world is everywhere, in everything, like breath, like atoms; in which an incapacity to act is neither arresting nor upsetting, because it is easy not to notice.
Play which is playing by shouting: in which each audience member is equipped with an air horn or noisemaker of some kind; this functions much like the pantomime task of shouting ‘he’s behind you’ or ‘oh no you didn’t’; in which noise is an ecstatic method of participation. I went to a poetry open mic once where the host kept playing an air horn sound effect – to signal time was up, in between acts, whenever he felt like it. Gleeful nuisance.
Play which is a dead bastard: in which the bastard monster refuses to die; in which the plot tricks you by pretending to be resolved – Michael Myers in the penultimate act of Halloween, sitting rigidly up, turn around Jamie Lee, turn around! in which the plot sneaks up on the audience from behind and breathes down their neck.
Play which is spinning on a pin: in which the characters scuttle and squabble and turn and spin and spin and though they know they are characters themselves forget to consider that everyone around them is a character too; in which the audience forget to consider that everyone around them is a character too; in which we are all tricked into believing we have learned to understand a protagonist, when we have really learned to be pleased with ourselves and go home.
Play which is an excessive body: in which the script is a generally agreed upon idea, and might leave the process entirely; in which an audience member will see something entirely different if they visit at the start and end of the run; which is free to grow new organs, as and when it requires; which is free to grow new organs even if it has no use for them.
The Wasp, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (2015)
Blackberry Picking, Seamus Heaney (1966)
Regeneration Songs, Alberto Duman, Dan Hancox, Malcolm James & Anna Minton (2018)
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson (1959)
The Witch, Shirley Jackson (1949) (here)
Crimes of the Future, David Cronenburg (2022)
The Haunting, Robert Wise (1963)
Every Zelda is the Darkest Zelda, Jacob Geller (2022) (here)