This is an attempt at a serious, contemplative post. I will endeavour to be serious and contemplative at all times and communicate to you, my readers, earnest and truthful points about emotions I have felt and ideas I have thought. I will at no point make cheap pop-culture references for laughs (unless, of course, I am attempting to make an earnest, serious truthful statement specifically about pop-culture and need to reference it to make my point), I will not be charmingly self-deprecating about my lack of love life and I will not make terrible terrible puns, even if they are especially terrible and delightful. And, I think I will leave it there, because you get the idea and I am already treading on thin ice.
So, yesterday I went to the theatre.
(That is not that exciting, I hear you say. That is something we have come to expect from you, Jenny.
Yes, I know, but give me a minute. I’m trying to build up your anticipation.)
Yesterday I went to the theatre to see a show that I have already seen. Yesterday I went to the theatre to see a show I saw barely a month ago at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Well, that is the point of this post. Why? Why did I see it again?
The first and easiest answer is that the circumstances I saw the play in at Edinburgh were less than ideal. My father was up for a few days and I was basically letting him make all of our viewing choices for the time he was with me. I bought my ticket to this show thinking it was another show that he had spoken about seeing. It was only after we sat down in the theatre and I looked at the set (a bare office) and listened to the opening music (heavy-metal) that I started to think, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten my wires crossed. I leaned over to Dad and whispered, ‘This isn’t the Scottish storytelling show, is it?’ He shook his head. No, it wasn’t. Right, ok. No worries. I am an experienced theatre-goer, I have been to many shows where I know little to nothing about them before I go in, so I adjusted my expectations accordingly and settled myself down to be surprised.
The other problem for me on that day was something that I struggled with throughout the whole of the festival. I had been up at 9am to flyer on my own, done a show at 12pm (on my own) and was exhausted. I was seeing upwards of 4 shows a day and my brain was shot. The shows that were finding the most success with me were ones that involved a lot of jokes. Preferably about boobs and penises. This play, however, the one that I was unexpectedly at, that I had no frame of reference for, demanded my attention. It demanded a level of focus that I was struggling to give the shows I was seeing at the fringe. I yawned through a lot of it. I closed my eyes. My head nodded to the side. Part of my brain was vaguely aware of the fact that the writing was, quite simply, beautiful. But the other half of my brain was annoyed there wasn’t more fancy boys in fishnets doing high-kicks. Or something. And this half of my brain convinced the other half of my brain (which was too tired to argue properly) that it should just switch off and sit this one out. I let the words wash over me, the occasional excellent phrase crashing my consciousness, but not really holding on too tightly to anything. I left the theatre with a little niggling feeling, a little irritated feeling that something very interesting had just happened in that space, something with big, challenging ideas and I had failed to rise to the opportunity of thought and concentration.
Over the next few weeks in Edinburgh I accidentally came in contact with Chris Thorpe (the writer of this show) again and again. I went to see a show called ‘What I Heard About the World’ because I had once spoken to Third Angel (one of the companies involved in the production) about mentoring me for a project. I bought a copy of the script for ‘The Oh Fuck Moment/I Wish I Was Lonely’, because I loved the title of the second show and it was on at the exact time as my own show so I was never able to see it during the fringe. Looking at the name on the script and Chris’ photo on the front, I suddenly connected the three pieces of theatre. After I had finished both ‘Oh Fuck Moment’ and ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’ in record time, I decided I really had missed out on something at that show I had accidentally seen with my Dad.
The show is called ‘There Has Possibly Been an Incident’. (As a side note, if it hasn’t already been made obvious through past posts, I have an obsession with good titles – possibly because I’m shit at them. This is a good title. Why? I’m not sure. It just is. Its poetic. Its intriguing. Its long but also weirdly succinct. It tells you as much as you need to know). I continued to think about it, off and on, for weeks after the festival. Why had the actors spoken the words in such a deliberately non-performative way? Why did they have their scripts with them? Why was it set in a kind of office space? Were the stories meant to be specific? Was I not picking up on the references? Or were they meant to be general? How were they connected, really? Why oh why hadn’t I listened properly?
The lovely thing about living in London, however, is that if there is good theatre happening somewhere in the UK, eventually (eventually) it will get to London. I didn’t have to wait too long for ‘There Has Possibly Been an Incident’. Almost as soon as I got home, I had an email from SoHo Theatre inviting me to see the best of the Edinburgh Fringe. At first I was very excited that I could see all of the shows I had loved in Edinburgh for the second time in London. Then I got slightly annoyed that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to see other things in Edinburgh and just waited to see these ones in London. And then I got over it and realised the only one I *actually* wanted to see again was the show I hadn’t really paid attention to. I wanted to give myself another opportunity to understand what was going on. So, I booked my ticket.
And yesterday I went to see the show again.
You know, the fact of the matter is I’ve done this big introduction because I don’t really know how to express the experience of seeing the show the second time round. There were a lot of things that were different. I knew what I was in for. I was well-rested. After some initial hesitation, I decided to sit front and centre in the first row (incidentally, I don’t know why I was so hesitant to sit in the front row for this show – normally I’m all for sitting front and centre). From the very start, I was completely focused and totally electrified. I felt like the performers were talking directly to me, partly because I was in the front row and so sometimes they actually were speaking their lines directly to me, but also, just because I was so engaged and open to the stories being spoken this time around.
But none of this really explains the huge emotional response I have had to the piece. The huge, emotional, confusing response that I have been unable to shake since I saw the piece yesterday. I stuck around for the Q&A afterwards and that didn’t satiate me. I talked about the show with friends and that didn’t clarify things. I bought the script and read it through (twice) today and still felt unsettled. I tweeted to the Soho Theatre and to the writer and gushed about how much I loved the show and that didn’t help (presumably because gushing doesn’t really do anything and is usually just embarrassing for all involved).
I think there are quite a few things going on that have combined into such a heady mix that I have been effectively knocked for six. And, at this point I am going to try and list as many of these reasons as possible in as articulate a way as possible.
1) Most importantly – I would like to write like that. I would desperately love to write like that. And I don’t know that I ever will. Not because I’m not a good writer, but because (as I’ve said before), excellent writing is not just about putting words together in a nice order on the page. Excellent writing is about ideas and insight. And if you don’t have those, it doesn’t matter how nicely you arrange your words on the page, there will still be no reason for someone to read them or hear them. Excellent writing should break open your perspective of the world and give you a new way of looking. The plays that have truly made an impact on me in the past are the ones that have altered my perspective of theatre, of writing and of the world that surrounds me. This play did that.
2) I still feel like there are ideas in this piece that I haven’t completely grasped. I haven’t been able to fit it into a neat little box and stamp it, ‘Processed – Understood.’ That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I have watched and re-watched and read and re-read Angels in America many times over the years and I still don’t feel that I fully understand the ending. It doesn’t destroy my enjoyment of everything else in the play and, if anything, it makes me want to keep returning to the script to finally figure it out. It feels like the ideas are just out of reach and, maybe, maybe, this time, I will get there… Maybe I will never feel like I have completely processed and understood ‘There Has Possible Been an Incident’. It doesn’t really bother me. The challenge it sets is more interesting anyway.
3) The ideas explored in the show of heroism and how heroism happens or doesn’t happen are… comforting to me? In a strange way? The play basically says that no-one has a plan. No-one really knows what they’re doing and they’re making it up as they go along (except for the psychopath who has a plan and has complete conviction). Why would that be comforting? Well, because I’m always nagged by the feeling that there might be something else that I should be doing. That everyone else seems to have been given some kind of magic key to the universe enabling them to truly understand life and their place in it. And, this play is saying, well, no. That’s not the case. Even in the biggest moments, even in the most important moments, we don’t know. We’re making it up. Sometimes we get it right. And other times we get it terribly, terribly wrong. And it’s saying, that search for meaning in your life is not… pointless, exactly. But… misguided. Because meaning is very rarely created by ourselves in one moment or even in a series of moments. Meaning is created afterwards, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes by others – it is imposed on to our actions to help us make sense of them and to craft a narrative.
4) The writing is beautiful. The writing is BEAUTIFUL. The writing is lyrical in the way that music is lyrical and I think part of my obsessing over the play is because the words are stuck in my head in the way that a song gets stuck in your head. But, unlike an album or a song, you can’t listen to a theatre show on repeat (I mean, I could go back and see it a 3rd time, but I kind of think that might start to freak the actors out a little. Also, I think we can all agree I’ve probably given enough of my meagre income to this solitary production already). So I’m stuck reading and re-reading the script, trying to bring to mind my favourite turns of phrase and keep them there until they are completely absorbed and I don’t need to repeat them anymore. And I would list them all for you, except it would take forever. I think my favourite is about a city square that is no longer a square because it has been so pulverised by shellfire that all the hard edges and lines are now a ‘dusty softness’. I mean, just… there is so much to say about just that tiny tiny line.
5) The show is very distressing. Extremely upsetting. And I don’t mean in a gratuitous way or in a way that isn’t warranted. But the show is dealing with huge, important ideas and big, scary, inhuman moments. But it is done quietly and calmly and devoid of emotional manipulation. The actors do not raise their voices. There is no underlying musical score dictating what you should feel and when you should feel it and where. And the result is that even though it is distressing, extremely extremely distressing, you don’t cry. You can’t really. There is no opportunity. And I ALWAYS cry. I drip worse than an old tap. I cry in Pixar movies, I cry in Qantas ads (I cry in Qantas ads even when I’m IN Australia, for God’s sake). And so I think that inability to cry makes it… difficult. To get rid of the distressing, uncomfortable feeling. There is no cathartic release at the end. There is no exit strategy. You have to sit there, on the tube, on the bus, whilst eating your cheese sandwich, with these images, these stories and you have to think about them, really, really think about them. I once saw a show in which they didn’t allow us the opportunity to clap at the end and there was a similar uneasiness for the audience as we left the theatre. But, if I can’t clap, how do I know that it’s over and it’s not real? If I can’t cry, how do I know that the bad things have ended and are in no way related to me?
I think that’s about the gist of it. There’s probably more things that I could write about, but I think those are the main points. I’m not great at understanding my emotional responses to things and this post is as much for myself as it is for anyone else. It’s not really meant as a review, either, its just an attempt to understand why this play, of all the plays I have seen over the past however long, has gotten under my skin so completely.
On another point entirely, I still don’t really know why I have such intense responses to certain random things. I mean, obviously, having broken it all down above I sort of see what things are affecting me and why. However, I’m not entirely sure why they affect me quite so much (I mean, I barely got 4 hours sleep last night). Sometimes I worry my brain and emotional response mechanism somehow got stuck in adolescence and I therefore FEEL things in a very OTT and not-completely-healthy way. Like a 15 year old girl who has just found out her high school boyfriend has been making out with someone else in his free periods and it is THE WORST THING THAT ANY HUMAN BEING HAS EVER DONE EVER TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING IN THE HISTORY OF FOREVER AND IT IS THEREFORE THE END OF THE WORLD AS SHE KNOWS IT. If my friends’ responses to my response to this play over the last day or so is anything to go by, they certainly seem to think it’s a little odd, and perhaps, by extension, they think I’m a little odd. And, hey, maybe it is a little odd. Maybe I’m a little odd. Maybe well-adjusted adults don’t let themselves get so caught up in stuff like this. Maybe well-adjusted adults had all their emotional epiphanies in high school and therefore nothing in the day-to-day world catches them off-guard anymore and its only the big shit, the family deaths and the natural disasters, that will now be able to break through their hard, well-adjusted adult emotional shells.
But, to be honest with you, most of the time I’m kind of happy I have deep and big reactions to things. I’m not saying I want to be a hysterical crying American on Oprah, losing my shit because someone has given me a make-up kit worth US199, but I also don’t want to sleepwalk through life never letting anything impact on me in any real way.
Nevertheless, whatever the reasons, whether or not it is healthy or not: that is/was the play.
That is/was my response.
And this is/was my blog post.