Well it’s been a rather scrappy year year for me post-wise. Blogging – if I have to use that plain word. Lots of shows I missed and others I saw and did not write about it. Then some excellent theatre I did see – and some of it I did write about. I think. Everybody knows that I have had health problems to the point where I really have to stop talking about such tiresome stuff, even if these ‘personal issues’ are not finished with. To be frank, I have been waiting for these difficulties to pass before I took up life and writing again with hitherto passion. But after so much ‘waiting’ and so little progress I am faced with the prospect that my pain problems my never pass. If so, I need to change my mental posture. If this is the deal from here on in, for survival’s sake I need to readjust my head-space. I am going to have to mature into into some sort of Buddhist-like acceptance. I should say in passing – so tricky is the game of life – that hope may be born in its abandonment. In my heart of hearts I do believe I will get better. But not while I wait – or dare to presume to. The basic decision is: James you have to move on. If the kitbag is heavier so be it. Very many people on the planet – hundreds of millions – have pulled shorter straws. Get back to writing – it cultivates happiness. In the least, keeps you distracted.
All if which reminds me why I think Waiting for Godot is the very best play of Modern times. The play in which ‘nothing happens twice’ and happiness eternally postponed. It speaks to me as a Modernist at heart (and mind). But a Modernist who lives in a Postmodern world – and who understands that art practice has had to change to speak to and about life now – this latest (new and yet re-used) version of the ‘human condition’ that’s been called Postmodern. It’s an odd position to find myself in. Born in 1955, a couple of years after Godot premiered. The point at which Modernism in theatre reached it highest point – and effectively announced/denounced its own end. Well – use-by date anyway. Dragged by its coat-tails off the stage. Godot is an exclamation mark at the end of an era.
So here I am uncomfortably at home with the language and rituals of Modernism – its respect for order, hierarchy and ideal of perfection. The Ibsen play, Leavis’s critical values – etc. And yet a true believer in the view (the fact!) living circumstances have changed so much – multiplicity, repetition, looping – that the critical language ascribed to the task of tug-boating Modernist art practice into lively dinner party conversation no longer has the torque needed to straighten out our thoughts on the world (and its art) as we find it today. (Yes, you will probably have to read the paragraph again. That’s okay it took several rewrites to get it clean.)
The world is different, art practice is different. Even theatre – often the last of the forms to move with the times – has started to become different. Even in Sydney in the past year. Though there have been forebears – notably Kosky’s The Lost Echo, Benedict Andrews’ ‘oeuvre’, and some squeaky noises coming out of Carriageworks – the official date we moved out clocks forward was probably the opening night of Simon Stone’s production of The Wild Duck. Why, because indisputably – it worked. Oh The Lost Echo worked too, but not enough people were yet ready to face its implications.
All of which places me in an awkward position because I have not kept up with the critical language that has evolved hand-in-hand with Postmodernism. That is party generational, mostly laziness on my part – but also a reflection of the fact that this language has paralleled and interfaced much more passionately with – say – visual art. And art of the new technologies. And not theatre. Not theatre in this city in our time anyway.
I got up this morning to write about Shakespeare – notably productions of two of his comedies – As You Like It at Belvoir directed by Eamon Flack and The Taming of the Shrew (the outdoor Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park 2011) directed by Damien Ryan. And I will get to them – if not today. They were/are both good productions – also both a lot of fun. Then I was drawn, by way of preamble or segue, into Kevin Jackson’s overview of theatre in Sydney in 2011. It fell out of my email box. And a goddam fine evaluation it is too. Which is what got me starting where I began at the top here today. Aware that I had seen a lot of shows – because I knew what Jackson was writing about (and almost overwhelmingly I agreed). But myself, I had written about so few of these shows – and that gave gave me pause for thought: what an odd year for me personally. For my personal life (and its vicissitudes) to so invade the public realm of my writing, such as it can be called.
Eluding the clutches of auto-obsession, can I say in passing, we are lucky to have in this city a group of very fine onliners (okay bloggers) including Jackson, Supple, Epistemysics, 5th Wall and myself (when I am in form) – there are others. Together we shit on what is presented in the local print media, and combined we almost make up for the singular achievement of La Croggon in Melbourne. So for a fine assessment of this year’s Sydney output go to Kevin Jackson here - Looking Back 2011 – and my way of compare-and-contrast from Jason Blake - Star Turns and Back Up in the Wings – at the Sydney Morning Herald (a pretty fair effort btw given the constrained circumstances of our print media).
And just to loop in a quasi-Postmodern way – where the notion of value itself is tendentious – I note that Kevin Jackson, out of all the shows he saw this year, most admired The Libertine which played at the Darlinghurst Theatre (and I am sorry to say I did not see). Directed by Damien Ryan – same-said director of the Hills outdoor Shrew I saw a few nights ago – which I want to say here and now is, to my mind, one of the best shows I have seen this year! So garlands, in old-fashioned showbiz language, to carry into 2012 for Mr Ryan from two of this city’s ‘umble bloggers. Well done mister. (He also gets a letter to the editor in today’s SMH!)
And so for 2012 – and the autobiographical strand of this little post. Waiting for Godot – more accurately in French – En Attendant Godot. ‘Attendance‘ not so much’ Waiting‘: more of a component of ‘acceptance’ in that. Not so restless. Which is why I think the play is so great. It is the play that show us what life on this planet is like once we accept God is lost to us – God is dead. We have killed her and now must live with the consequences. But what’s great about the play, which is really only revealed in a good production, is that the primary coping component of surviving the debacle of God gone – is laughter. From wry smile to raucous chortling. Which makes the play just that little bit Buddhist – big bit really. To be able to look at all the sorrow in the world, all of it, as a true Buddhist can, and without a flicker of denial – still smile. This smile is not a luxury or an escape – rather a necessity to living. Living truly. Because, as we smile less (says he wanly), the light starts to fade. And when we stop smiling full stop, at the point of suicide for example, the light is switched off.
Of course the death of Rosie Lalevich has cast a long shadow across many of us – because to many of us we equated this beautiful woman with joy itself. And so if Rosie can’t do it any more, how are the rest of us meant to? I don’t have the answer to that – though clues are found in the kindness of others. Our own kindnesses when we can manage them. And in the best of art. Which takes us back to En Attendant Godot. A good production of that play – for example the one we saw in Sydney in 2010 with Roger Rees and Ian McKellen (not just Ian McKellen thank you – takes two to make a cosmic joke) – helps us live. Because, while there is no denying our ontological circumstances, a resounding tinkle of laughter (read joy) rang loud and clear on that occasion from the stage. And like shaking the hand of the Dalai Lama, such experiences stay with us – and help us stumble along.
You might guess from this little piece that, in my months of quietude, I have been thinking of where to take this blog. Gosh, maybe I can even call it for what it is! Let’s see – as the monks in saffron robes advise – little steps…
I am pondering broadening my writing landscape. I’m sorry but ‘reviewing theatre’ in itself just does not do it for me any more, as much as I live on the air of staged experience – week in week out. And I find being introduced as ‘a critic’ or ‘reviewer’ embarrassing. Like I am standing there in front of some poor innocent person covered in shit. Why and how we (you and I) move on from here I cannot say. In advance, I do not know. But neither did/do Vladimir and Estragon. And they, after all, are our role models – lol.
PS: there is a blessing in not having been raised on the language of Postmodernism – for it has many traps for all but the most thoroughly versed writers and readers. But what lies ahead – indeed has arrived – is a challenge to those of us who wish to write about theatre in this city. Write – not just enthuse or complain. If theatre is indeed at last is catching up with, well not just visual art, but more effectively mirroring the world we actually live in, then we have to find a critical mindset – if not an exact language – to match. I can’t promise you I am going to achieve that. But I do know one thing from Modernism – form is function. Aka – the medium is the message. Aka – what we say is one and the same as the way we say it. So obligingly moves are afoot. (Stage direction: ‘Does not move.’)
PPS: Will write on the Shakespeare comedies next…and probably Ryan’s Macbeth which I am seeing 2nite!