Sunday, March 1, 2009
We almost didn't make it to this play last night. Trying to get from Finsbury Park to Stoke Newington for a friend's birthday drinks prior to the 7.30pm start proved as easy a task as swimming the Channel - we gave up on the buses eventually and got there on foot, downed a few champagnes and then got on the 243 to Waterloo, with 50 minutes until curtain up. Our friend assured us that the bus from hers to Waterloo would take "half an hour, tops."
At 6 in the morning, perhaps. But not on Saturday night.
TS and I don't know that part of London well at all and of course were fretting like mad - do we get off, do we find the nearest Tube, do we get a cab - and eventually it got to 7.20, after well over forty minutes on the bus, and we were only just getting to Holborn. "We'll never make it, it's over!" sighed a dejected TS.
I'm one of these people who believes that if one is meant to be somewhere, everything will fall into place to ensure that. Somehow the traffic around Aldwych miraculously parted like the Red Sea, and we were on Waterloo Bridge within minutes. "Come on, come on," TS willed the bus as it purred towards the NT, glowing like a mer-castle in the night, all sea greens and blues. The minute the bus stopped, we leapt off it and ran like shoplifters. I was wearing heels. But I am training for a half marathon. We had three minutes.
We made it to the Cottesloe Theatre, TS collected our tickets while I headed straight for the bar and asked for extremely strong vodka and tonics. Spirits to lift our spirits, as it were.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the performance will commence in two minutes."
We had, literally, just made it.
And all that which I have just described was ironically the most exciting part of the evening! We needed our heart-rates slowed somewhat after the bus journey, and this play did exactly that.
Maybe I'm being too harsh. There were some good performances - Angus Wright as Alfred was commanding and impressive, and whichever Little Ollie (Wesley Nelson or Alfie Field) we saw was also excellent - and interesting moments, like Rita (Claire Skinner) putting the flowers her sister-in-law just brought her into a blender, or rain on the stage in Act II. The set (by Bunny Christie) was also inspiring in its minute and realistic detail. We watched with interest the NT crew disassembling it in the interval - they had it down to a fine art.
But with all its potential, Mrs Affleck just didn't quite catch fire. I had been so excited about seeing it - I admire Samuel Adamson's work and was extremely curious to see if it were possible to successfully re-write an Ibsen (Little Eyolf).
I find the idea of re-writing classic plays a strange one. I personally have always felt that plays and theatre reflect the social consciousness of their own time. To attempt to transport them to another era, and indeed in this case to another country/culture, seems interiminably risky to me. Why re-write? Why not just revive?
TS and I have often talked about doing something similar with one of our mutually favourite plays - written over a hundred years ago. We often think about experimenting with it, taking the basic plot and characters, and rewriting it, placing it in a different context. Formalistically, however, we know it would be an enormous task and one we would likely encounter equally enormous criticism for. We don't know if we're ready for that! So yes, there are risks involved in a re-write of a classic, and I do admire anyone who is brave enough to do it.
Mrs Affleck, as I said, had a lot of potential, but ultimately it was a baffling experience. There were a lot of unnecessary characters and storylines that cluttered up what was ultimately the play's message - that selfishness is incredibly destructive. By far the most interesting aspect, for me anyway, was the idea that this self-absorbed writer who also happened to be a father to a disabled boy, finally had an epiphany and decided to discard his art in favour of devoting his life to his child, only to have his child die within days of making that decision, leaving him broken, and without anything to give his life meaning, as he stopped loving his wife long ago. Now, that is interesting. But it got spoiled with too many cliches (a sexually repressed 1950s housewife, etc), a character that really didn't have a purpose (the Rat Catcher boy, Flea, who reminded me of one of the T-Birds from Grease!), and what I summised to be a total lack of audience empathy for the other characters. I didn't really care whether Mrs Affleck threw herself into the sea, stuffing rocks into her pockets a la Virginia Woolf.
I guess I just wanted some of what I felt in the bus on the way to the theatre: a bit of desperation, a bit of adrenalin, and a bit of being caught up in this one moment where what is about to happen means everything.