Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Previous post continued; or, "Love is paying attention."

So, Jonah and Otto...I was quite disarmed, really, as I was expecting some Pinter/Beckett-esque modern theatre piece, with the slightly elusive quality that characterises both those playwrights. It wasn't anything like that, really: yes, the dialogue was a bit heightened (in a poetic way) but ultimately this play was a very straightforward portrayal of a developing relationship between two very different men who begin as strangers and leave as, well, not exactly friends, but something close to that. What was remarkable, however, about this play was the way in which it made you realise that people are not straightforward - we always make assumptions about the people we meet, but there are extraordinary depths to them that need uncovering. Here, we initially saw Otto as a straitlaced and slightly peculiar old man; Jonah as an unstable, smart-mouthed hoodlum. Both of these assumptions were proved to be totally wrong. We watched, captivated, as the two men uncovered their own and each other's insecurities, secrets, longings and fears; as the balance of power shifted between them; as they both were changed by their encounter. The final (and briefest) scene is absolutely beautiful - the two men part, and virtually nothing is said to each other, but we know and they know just how much they have connected and just how long they will stay in each other's mind and heart.

Monday, 17 March 2008

"a single tear falls from his eye"

Tonight, a bunch of us are going to see a play called Jonah and Otto by Robert Holman; I am very excited, mainly because I know next to nothing about it. Holman is not a playwright whose work I know at all - the only things I know about him are taken from an article written by another playwright, Simon Stephens. The article seems to suggest that Holman plays are always incredibly thought-provoking, beautifully written and have an emphasis on strong visual imagery. Sounds good to me. The article ends: "If you are new to his plays, I envy you. You're about to embark, in my opinion, on something rather extraordinary."

More of this later...

Saturday, 15 March 2008


Last night a group of us went to the Royal Northern College of Music to watch a double bill of Ravel operas, L'heure espagnole and L'enfant et les sortileges - both were fantastic (the first one is a hilariously stupid farce with gorgeous music) but it was the second one that really dazzled us all. It's a much-neglected opera, mainly because it's so hard to stage: the story revolves around a little boy who misbehaves, and is punished by the household objects he has mistreated, so the director must somehow come up with ingenious ways of making chairs, crockery and a fire (!) come to life and start singing! This production was fantastic, both visually and musically - particular highlights were:
  • The Princess suddenly rising up out of the boy's storybook - audible gasps from me, and everyone else
  • The wallpaper coming to life, and the beautiful quasi-pastoral music that followed
  • The terrifying sequence with Mr Arithmetic and the numbers
  • The spine-tingling moment when the set opened out to change from the living room into the garden outside - many more audible gasps!
Fantastic stuff.

10 Days to War

Since Monday, there have been a series of 10-minute dramas, one broadcast each day, to mark the anniversary of Britain's commitment to the war in Iraq. If you haven't seen them, I really would urge you to go onto BBC iPlayer and watch the ones that have been on so far - they're all a portrayal of a real event that happened in the ten days leading up to the start of the war (Monday's, for example, entitled A Simple Private Matter, is about Elizabeth Wilmshurt, a senior civil servant who resigned on the basis that the country could not legally justify going to war) and are incredibly well-acted and though-provoking.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

"I thought one was enough; it's not true."

I don't read much non-fiction, aside from Christian books - there's just so much amazing fiction around that I get a bit distracted...but, just occasionally, I read a true story that takes my breath away. One such book (which I've just finished reading) is The Two of Us by the actress Sheila Hancock, about her life with John Thaw (of Inspector Morse fame). Thaw died of cancer in 2002, and the book is mainly about Hancock dealing with the death of her husband - her diary extracts from 2001-3 are interspersed throughoutt the biographical stuff.

It's a beautiful, beautiful book, but two things struck me in particular. Hancock relates some of the letters that helped her most after Thaw's death, including this quote: "Time does not heal, nor any belief, but our own common sense, determination and courage will get us through". As I read it, I realised the truthfulness of it - there's often a lot of feeling among Christians that, when a believer whom you love dies, we should use the knowledge that we'll see them again one day as a kind of antidote to grief. I discovered, when my Grandad died last year, that it doesn't work like that - while I know it is utterly true that he's in heaven, and that I will see him again, that truth in itself does not help me deal with his absence here on earth. It's at times like this that I realise how incredibly wrong people are when they dismiss the Christian faith as an "emotional crutch" to help one through the bad times; I miss Grandad hugely, irrespective of the fact that I know he's in a better place where, one day, we'll be reunited. "Time does not heal, nor any belief", you see. What my faith does provide, however, is not an emotional crutch to take away pain, but rather the knowledge of a loving God who watches over me; it can only be through His strength that "common sense, determination and courage will get [me] through".

The other very touching section comes in the Prologue, where Hancock relates this story:
"Walking in our field. A soft mist of rain. The sun shining behind the drizzle. A rainbow forms across the sky behind me. It reflects in the raindrops on grass and trees. Millions of multicoloured baubles, iridescent, extraordinary.
John, quick, come and look.
Racing back over the wooden bridge, into the conservatory, I toss aside his script, grab his hand and pull him, limping and protesting, to my magic vision.
It's gone.
Oh, great. Miserable wet trees, driving rain and soaking wet trouser legs - thanks a bunch.
But it was beautiful.
Well, you daft thing, why didn't you stay and enjoy it?
I couldn't enjoy it properly without you."
That's why relationships (whether that be friends, lovers or family) are so fundamental to life - having someone to share things with makes everything so much more beautiful.