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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Wilson’

I decided on one blog for the Barbican’s International Beckett Season after I’d written about Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/waiting-for-godot) so here’s the rest…..

Rough for Theatre I & Act Without Words II

I’d seen both of these short plays before, but their pairing, and the outdoor location, made this a very different and somehow more intense experience. In the first a blind man is playing, well scratching, his fiddle on the street when he is befriended by a one-legged man in a wheelchair. They seem to be exploring the possibility and potential mutual benefit of hanging out together.

The second piece starts with two men in sleeping bags. One is prodded by a rod from the side and proceeds to get out of the sleeping bag and dress, an agonising process which takes an age. After he undresses again and returns to his bag, the second man does the same, except he’s quicker and the process is easier, with more than a touch of OCD. When he returns to his bag, the first man starts again as the play ends. Both characters are mute.

They took place in the Barbican Estate, the first outside St. Giles Cripplegate and the second by a small lake nearby. The evening sounds – planes, a helicopter, birds, passers-by, children playing, a distant choir – all seemed part of it. It was a lovely evening and rather a unique experience and the performances by Trevor Knight in the first, Bryan Burroughs in the second and Raymond Keane in both were superb.

All That Fall

When I saw this radio play on stage 2.5 years ago, I wondered what it would be like on the radio (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/all-that-fall). Well, this was the next best thing – listening to it siting in a rocking chair in a carpeted Pit Theatre, with gentle orange light emanating from lots of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re all facing the same direction, a wall of orange spotlights, and that’s it. The spotlights sometimes shine, in differing configurations, and the overhead bulbs come on and off, bright and dim, but it’s also pitch black at times.

The experience didn’t really live up to the excellence of the idea, I’m afraid, adding too little value to what I would imagine it’s like listening at home. The answer to my earlier question appears to be that it’s better staged after all, even if that wasn’t Beckett’s intention.

Krapp’s Last Tape 

This sits alongside Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Happy Days as one of only a quartet of Beckett’s ‘fully formed’ pieces and actors are understandably attracted to the monologue of a 69-year-old man looking back and listening to his annual recordings as he begins the final one. American avant-garde artist Robert Wilson has lengthened it by 20 minutes. It begins with a long period of very loud rain and thunderstorms with a mute Krapp in clown-like make-up on stage eating two bananas. He eventually sits at his desk, though it then didn’t feel like any other performance of this piece. I can’t be sure, but there seemed to be a lot less dialogue, both live and recorded. The vast Barbican stage had high level windows on three sides, what looked like cages at the rear and tables with boxes and papers on both sides. Everything is monochrome, except Wilson’s red socks. It’s a very different playing space to any other I’ve seen this piece in.

He had a lot to live up to as I’ve seen Max Wall, Harold Pinter, John Hurt and Michael Gambon as Krapp, and he didn’t. I was surprised that someone as precious about his work as Wilson would take such liberties with someone else’s, especially as he knew Beckett. I was also surprised the Beckett estate didn’t intervene as they have in the past (Deborah Warner’s Footfalls, to name but one). This is Wilson’s Krapp, not Beckett’s.

I missed the brief visit of Lessness and had seen Lisa Dwan’s Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby at the Royal Court (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/not-i-footfalls-rockaby), so that’s it!

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Five hours with no interval.  Enter and exit at liberty. Take your seat from 20 minutes before the time on your ticket. Well, it might be 36 years old, but Philip Glass & Robert Wilson’s category-defying opera / dance / music / theatre piece certainly breaks the rules. So what is it?

Well, it’s about Einstein but there’s no narrative or story as such. There are some scenes, interspersed with linking pieces (‘knee plays’) and dances; the first knee play has started as you enter. Personally, I found the link with Einstein somewhat nebulous – I didn’t really learn anything about the man.

What there is is some good music, some beautiful poetry, some lovely dance and some gorgeous visual images. The trouble is, they are all elongated to the point where more is less. A dance starts and you’re thinking ‘that’s nice’, then five minutes later you’re thinking ‘I’m enjoying this’, then ten minutes later, you’re thinking ‘time for something else now’.

Glass is often criticised for monotony and repetition; here the repetitious monotonous music is matched by repetitious monotonous words, movement and acting. It’s such a shame, because it really does have wonderful moments – there just too many dull ones in-between.

This was Glass’ first opera (it must have blown minds 36 years ago, as it still does today) and the first part of a trilogy about men from history that continued with Satyagraha (Gandhi)and Akhnaten (Egyptian Pharaoh),  but the latter two were a whole lot better…. and shorter….. and with intervals.

This is ‘occasion theatre’ but it wasn’t as much of an occasion as I’d hoped (or the price warranted). Mind you, there were no interval bar queues….

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Though marred a little this time by late information and mis-information, my second visit to MIF confirms it as a permanent new fixture for anyone interested in the arts. It’s USP is that everything is a world premiere, so what it loses in quantity it make up for in originality. This year I got to four things…..

Whilst Manchester’s own Gallagher brothers are nowhere to be seen, their former adversary, Londoner Damon Albarn, returns with his second ‘opera’. I wish they wouldn’t call it that, because it sets it up for all sorts of unfair comparisons. It’s the story of the now obscure Elizabethan renaissance man Dr. Dee, brought alive in staged scenes and songs. It is an extraordinary story, and though they’ve got the essence of the man, it’s more of an impression than a story as there isn’t enough narrative for that. Albarn’s music is a lovely combination of early music, folk, world music and Philip Glass and Rufus Norris’ staging is wonderfully inventive. There’s a 10-piece band in a giant container which rises high above the action, with Albarn perched precariously on a platform jutting out, and there’s an orchestra in the pit. As the show starts, a raven flies from the auditorium onto the top of the container and then off stage right. Characters walk onto the container roof from stage left and fall backward onto the stage (well, presumably a mattress otherwise there’d be a lot of broken backs). The scenes onstage unfold below this, each accompanied by songs – some sung by Albarn and some by onstage characters with operatic voices. I found the whole thing captivating if indescribable!

National treasure Victoria Wood has written a musical before (Acorn Antiques) and a play with music (Talent) and her new show That Day We Sang is billed as a play with songs. It has a true local story and with community involvement it has a Billy Elliott feel. It’s starting point is the re-union, for a Granada ‘documentary’, of four adults who as kids participated in a famous recording by a children’s choir. As it unfolds, it becomes a touching story of the unfulfilled lives and love of Tubby and Enid, two of these children. The other two child singers, now grown up, act as social catalysts which eventually leads us to our happy ending. We move back and forth between the 1929 auditions, rehearsal and concert and the filming and subsequent events of 1969. There’s a specially assembled children’s choir of 44 and the Halle Youth Orchestra are in the pit. It still needs a bit of work, but it’s already a charming, heart-warming and funny show. There are two show-stoppers – when the wonderful Jenna Russell as Enid sings about what it means to be called Enid (where scalectrix and swarfega get rhymed, as only VW would) and a quartet in a Berni Inn singing about the delights of dining at Berni’s, complete with four dancing waiters & waitresses – and Black Forest Gateaux! In a show packed with her usual nostalgic references, we also get to visit The Golden Egg and Wimpy’s and there are many nods to iconic products of the day. Vincent Franklin is brilliant as Tubby, who uses humour to cover his sadness and vulnerability. Gerald Horan and Lorraine Bruce are also excellent, doubling up as former child singers Frank and Dorothy (now obsessed with the niceties of entertaining at home; cue doilies and matchmakers) and Enid’s boss and colleague Mr Stanley and Pauline. Young Raif Clarke was absolutely adorable as young Jimmy (Tubby). I can’t believe such a good idea and such a good show won’t live beyond these 13 performances.

Well, if Dr Dee was hard to describe, The Life & Death of Marina Abramovic is impossible to describe. She’s the godmother of performance art and amongst her career highlights we have 700 hours sat silently in NYC’s MoMA being visited and observed by people, many of whom queued all night, and a walk half the length of the Great Wall to meet her partner, who walked the other half, in order to say goodbye as they split up. Well, I suppose if you’re a performance artist, you don’t write your biography, you, well, perform it – and that’s just what you get here. Eleven scenes from her life bookended by her imagined funeral. It’s narrated by Willem Dafoe no less, looking and behaving manically as a cross between the MC in Cabaret and the Joker in Batman. The music is by Anthony (as in Anthony and The Johnsons), William Basinski and Svetlana Spajic and its staged by avant guard director Robert Wilson. It was often surreal, sometimes absurd and occasionally wince-inducing with stunning visual imagery and beautiful music (and three dogs stalking the playing area during the ‘funeral’!). Somehow you just couldn’t take your eyes off the stage. It was much later that I realised how much I’d learnt about her – which I guess is what a biography is for. Extraordinary.

The fourth piece was 30 minutes at Piccadilly Station with a soundscape called Audio Obscura by Lavinia Greenlaw provided through headphones. There were no directions, but you were encouraged to explore the space. If there was a narrative, I didn’t get it. Somehow, though, you did get lost in some other world and became only semiconscious of your surroundings. I’ve had similar experiences which were better, but I don’t regret this particular ride.

The original plan included Punchdrunk’s immersive Dr. Who show, but they withheld the information that unaccompanied adults would not be admitted until after I’d booked the other three shows and only decided to allow unaccompanied adults for a few evening shows much later, by which time I couldn’t fit them in. Mis-information about the first day’s opening hours of Eleven Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery also meant I missed that, and I managed to find John Gerard’s outdoor film Infinite Freedom Exercise despite confusing direction in the publicity material. MIF needs to improve the timeliness and accuracy of its information as this is the sort of thing that screws up a carefully planned trip (and visitors from afar – well, London – do need to plan) and can easily piss of the punters!

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