I love going to the theatre. There is nothing that beats the anticipation, the atmosphere, the pleasure of being in an enclosed space with hundreds of other people all focusing with rapt attention on the stage in front of you – waiting for the action to unfold and the ideas to develop. And, if I am to be entirely honest, for something to go ever so slightly wrong. The actor may laugh, you might see a small hole in someones tights, there might be a little slip somewhere. It’s no good of course if things go massively wrong, but a little hiccup here and there is something that can be silently rejoiced in.
You don’t get any of that when watching a film. Even a film of a live performance, because you know it will not have been put out before being tidied up of all quirks and idiosyncrasies. But these days we have no option. The theatres are closed – not because of Puritanism, I am glad to say, but because there is no one able to go to them. We are all confined to barracks and have to make our own amusements. Not quite. Thank God for the internet. This should be added to all church litanies when we are all allowed back into church.
Meanwhile, ideas for theatrical amusement are flowing and so yesterday I deceded to watch a play from the Royal Court, in Sloane Square. I knew it was going to be controversial – after all the Royal Court made its name with controversy – Look back in Anger – all those years ago, so I was prepared for that. I was told it was going to be humorous and also dark. Cyprus Avenue was indeed all those things. It was gripping, and funny (Squirm-inducingly) and shocking and horrible.
But more than anything it reminded me of my last year in university, when I had to write an essay comparing the dramatic techniques of Bond, Brecht and Beckett. No, I didn’t have to write about them – for some reason I chose to. Never was a more pretentious essay ever written. It has taken me forty years or so to understand that I did not know anything about these playwrights. What i thought I understood – and I don’t think I was really kidding even myself then – was heavily lifted out of dreary critical texts. I had never actually seen any of the plays in performance – so how could I write about them? but I did, Apologies to Dr John Bull who had to read my magnus opus on these icons
Anyway, all this came back to me because of the use of a baby on the stage. A powerful symbol of utter innocence both Ireland and Bond make use of the doll in the pram in the most horrendous violent way – and I have to admit I was not prepared for this, Watching alone, with headphones at the computer is not the best way to process emotion. I need someone’s hand to hold or at least to make eye contact when things get too intrusive and upsetting. but I suppose you could say that it was a successful ploy. My maternal and other instincts all came to the fore, and I emerged, angry and upset. But was the point of the play enhanced by my – and presumably other people’s reactions. I really don’t know. Reviews were mixed – but none really reflected my opinion.
This is the actual blurb from the Royal Court:
Starring Stephen Rea and directed by Vicky Featherstone, the award-winning Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland mixes live capture of performance from the iconic Royal Court Theatre stage production with location shooting in Belfast.
Eric Miller (Stephen Rea) is a Belfast Loyalist. He is experiencing a psychotic episode and mistakes his five-week old granddaughter for Gerry Adams. Generations of sectarian trauma convince him that his cultural heritage is under siege. He must act.
This hard hitting black comedy Cyprus Avenue tells the story of a man struggling with the past and terrified of the future. It was awarded Best New Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards and the James Tait Black Prize for Drama in 2017. For his portrayal of Eric, Stephen Rea won Best Actor at the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017.
It’s on for a couple more weeks and tell me what you think.