Once again we find ourselves in The Dirty Duck with Peter, a middle aged lecturer in English, and his niece, Emily, a second year student in Modern Languages at the same university.
PETER: (LOWERING THE DRINKS TO THE TABLE) Well then, Emily. What did you make of all that?
EMILY: Well I certainly enjoyed it. It’s just that…well, I’m just not sure that I…got it.
PETER: Well you know what Milan Kundera said. “The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure.” Although in this case…(SIPS PENSIVELY)
EMILY: There was no pleasure?
PETER: No…there was plenty of pleasure. Buckets of it…but it seemed to exist alongside a mounting frustration. Surely a ninety minute play needs some kind of narrative traction, a kind of through line.
EMILY: That’s old fashioned thinking now though, isn’t it? I thought you used to teach postmodernism?
PETER: (LAUGHS) OK then, clever clogs. Tell me what it was about.
EMILY: (SMILES) I’ll give it a go. (SLIGHT PAUSE) So there were three sections, each one exploring a different phase in the life of a troupe of actors.
EMILY: In the first phase we’re watching a masque at court—
PETER: Which was just visually…musically stunning!
EMILY: The last one ever to take place before the Civil War. I think language…meaning…becomes of secondary importance here because it’s such an immersive experience. That cliff of gold as a backdrop—
PETER: And the beautiful vocals…erm…commentary and song – from Madeleine Worrall.
EMILY: Then we were led backstage to witness Charles’ execution.
PETER: Which was an eery half hour. The cold, and the constant rushing of the wind. I genuinely felt as if I was witnessing an event rather than a piece of theatre.
EMILY: I remember thinking this is a literal example of gallows humour, with the executioner sharpening his axe on the ground.
PETER: (LAUGHS) And Charles trying to stall the execution by adjusting his clothing and asking questions.
EMILY: And the final section back in the studio, post-execution. Only now all forms of theatre have been decreed illegal, the proscenium arch has been torn out and the golden backdrop has been replaced by graffiti.
PETER: I had more problems with this section than the other two. The fragmented dialogue…those shifting freeze frames…those endless tableaux – of actors dissolute and dispossessed. This is where I felt the production verged on affectation – experimentation for experimentation’s sake.
EMILY: But wasn’t that the point? To see how far we can push forward the boundaries of form? In a world where theatre has been banned the question of what constitutes theatre is bound to be asked.
PETER: But at the expense of clarity? At the end of a play the dangling threads need to be tied off. And one of those threads is to do with meaning.
EMILY: But history doesn’t do that, does it? Perhaps historians and playwrights do us a disservice when they serve us up neat narratives with a consistent ‘through line’. Life is messy, ambiguous, amorphous…meaningless even.
PETER: Which is why the purpose of art is to carve shape and order out of these things.
EMILY: But you said you enjoyed it?
PETER: Yes! It annoyed me but I don’t doubt there were moments of brilliance.
EMILY: I think the problem, for you at least, was that the experience was far more sensual than cerebral. The performance resembled a long mood poem. Thinking about it now it feels more like a dream… at times nightmarish, ecstatic, brooding, but kind of hazy in the memory. (LOOKING OVER PETER’S SHOULDER). Isn’t that one of the actors? (PETER TURNS ROUND) Do you think he’d mind if we invited him over to ask a few questions?
PETER: (A WRY SMILE) What? And tie up all those lose ends? I don’t think so, Emily. Now that would ruin all the fun…
Kingdom Come is on at The Other Place until 30 September 2017. Click here for more details.