Recently returned to these shores, Andrew Haydon chronicled Forest Fringe’s residency at the Gate, part of which we have featured, and covered on these pages. Tracing the arcs and resonances on his blog Postcards from the Gods, he also began to develop a notion of “embedded criticism”, something similar to the model often employed at European festivals, where the critic is not simply a mercenary sharpshooter fuelled by cheap plonk and comps but has a role of documentation, archive, presence, sympathy and even that dread word (which, it must be noted, Haydon does not employ) dramaturgy. The similarities with our manifesto of digital criticism are marked, and that Haydon is a clever critic of some reputation working in an interesting conjuncture for criticism is worthy of note. What follows is a redux selection of his writing, cribbed from Postcards, on his time with Forest Fringe at the Gate.
The most curious thing about entering the Gate for a Forest Fringe event is the still-tangible slight dis-juncture between the two entities. On this first night, the Gate’s FOH/security chap is still stolidly blocking the stairs, implacably insisting people fill up every row, from the front, row by row. It’s a far cry from the find-your-own-chair/floorspace ethos of the Edinburgh space. But Forest Fringe is a concept, not a venue, now, so one mustn’t get hung up.
It’s interesting, though, to see FF able to present itself without the adversity, or at the very least necessity, of which it has been making a virtue, if not an aesthetic, for so long.
As it is, the piece still stands as a lovely series of moments meditating on remembrance and place, family and, well, Volk. But without being right-wing as those elements might suggest. There is something quite reassuring about the matter-of-fact way that small migrations – his grandfather from Scotland to the Midlands, the journeys made by various other travellers Kelly encounters, the fact that the woman he happens to sit next to on the coach is an English as Foreign Language Teacher. Subtly, the piece does present People not as anchored to Place, but as roaming free-agents who happen to end up in various spots, as exemplified by the couple who run the coffee shop at the end of Britain who now live in total isolation since the other families who lived there have all gradually moved away.
Stylistically, I’m dying to say that it sort of reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis; except that is somehow completely and inexcusably wrong. There’s a smartness and a hardness to Thorpe’s prose, sure. But it’s also incredibly, properly funny. Not just “amused” or “ironic”. And it’s not self-regarding or dead-eyed.
It’s a sort of style built on repeated, spiralling clarification: “Statement. Full stop. Not that I’m saying ___; or ____; or ____”. It’s very funny, but also painful, and at times feels genuinely risky – having a narrator who does step over lines, who does lose our sympathy, who does go too far. One particular digression about how the narrator’s friends are laughing like monkeys veers off into the difficult observation that the narrator hates how society has got so that every time someone says “monkey” people think they’re talking about black people. It’s catch-your-breath, did-he-*really*-just-say-that? stuff. It’s also observed with a forensic acuity.
To be fair, Thorpe is a superb performer. And I’d argue it *is* *performance*. Not “acting” as such, but he’s definitely a cultivated a way of *being* on stage (how I’d differentiate between that and *just reading on stage* is hard to say, though). He has a ritual of taking all the stuff out of his pockets before he starts. The first time you see him do it it obviously makes *sense*, but when you’ve seen him do it a few times, you maybe appreciate that there’s something very specific about it. Maybe, in part, it’s to do with detaching *himself on stage* with the practical necessities of *himself in the real world* (Pseuds’ Corner, here I come, I know). It’s worth noting that Thorpe does also have a brilliant voice; deep, growly and, on stage at least, almost perpetually sardonic, with a broad, flat Manchester accent. It’s hard to think of his writing being read any other way – ‘though I’m sure different performers would bring many excellent, new qualities to it.
And then there’s suddenly a vision of these hundreds of thousands of lives being lived around the peripheries of our capitalism, whose days are like those of Jet Set Willy with the infinite lives, lives that get reset every day just so they can start falling and dying all over again.
At points, Infinite Lives is about as bleak as anything you’ll ever see.
Surprisingly, Goode manages to tag a happy ending onto it, which on one level feels like a relief – it could just as easily have gone the other way – but ultimately, after invoking *so much* discomfort and suffering, it is a bitter sweetness.
Nevertheless, Infinite Lives is a spectacularly rich piece of work. Right up there with Goode’s best. It is frankly ridiculous that last night represented its London premiere, and remains one of only a handful of performances the script has *ever* had.
I kind of wish Lyn Gardner had seen this night, rather than Monday’s. On one level, yes, it still feels a bit like a retro- Avant Garde, but here we’re looking straight at the ICA circa 1977, rather than Left-Bank 1959. In a funny way, though, given that Britain is currently staring down a massive recession under a disastrous Tory government (*they’ve* clearly given up on the whole coalition thing, so I’m damned if I know why I should keep up the pretence), it makes a horrible sense that the sound of protest, rejection and disgust at the government does sound like this.
Her project is essentially to translate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (just article one?) into a protein and to then inject that protein into some apples. To grow those apples outside the International Court of Justice at the Hague. They are then going to send those apples off around the world to other labs to see if other scientists can *translate* the protein, and then invite those scientists to eat the apples.
See what I mean. It’s at once inspiring and also kind of astonishing that it can be done at all.
Translating prose into protein, for heaven’s sake! (my inner cynic was quietly amused by the thought that it would be quite funny if universal human rights made apples inedible, but…)
But, yes. Isn’t it staggering that that’s even possible? So, yes. Most of my experience of this show was taken up with me keeping on picking my jaw up from the floor.
Their new shtick is doing the Parisian Gypsy Jazz scene of the 1930s. Last night they only played music, but apparently these songs (really rather fine) come from their new show, which is apparently based on Orpheus in the Underworld. And the music of Django Reinhardt. Which sounds quite fun. They also won me over by having pretty much all the inter-song banter in French. Actual French. Not piss-taking Franglais but an actual foreign language. Good. British theatre needs a lot more foreign languages in it.
I do sometimes wonder if it’s entirely helpful to British, well, to British anything really, that we’re so apparently addicted to charm and laughter. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m as British as the next person, and I fall for it every time, but I do sometimes wonder if it doesn’t wrong-foot a few things. Because, while Bennett’s piece emphatically *was* both funny and charming, I’m not sure everyone needed to laugh *quite* so much. And it felt like maybe a few members of the audience we deliberately laughing in preference to actually thinking or receiving the piece differently. None of which is a criticism of Bennett – nor the audience really. I should probably be a whole lot less intolerant and judgemental about such things.
The effect this has on the show, however, is to transform this lone artist and his “character comedy” into something which we really are *all in together*. And I think it’s this fact, the fact thatHalmarack actually *needs us* to take part for the piece to work, that adds to this ultimate aticulation of resistance.
Since I’m being ludicrously honest in these reviews, I should probably also admit/confess I didn’t get on stage. I sat in the stalls and watched. But as I’ve often noted, I’m not a big joiner. Come the revolution I’ll probably be sitting at the side of one of the barricades writing about it.
And I have to say, it’s [the lack of critical coverage] made me feel a whole lot more inclined to write, and indeed feel some responsibility for writing these reviews. Precisely because, if I don’t write it, then some of those nights will never get written up. And I think there’s been stuff too good to get lost, and an overall sense of trajectory which is incredibly valuable and important as well.
- Spine. Positive confirmation.
- The House That Will Not Stand. Reclaiming a forgotten history.
- Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The songwriter's songwriter.