Saturday, 13 February 2016

Yeah, Beckett speaks to me so much....

Beckett probably covers more philosophical ground in his plays that
would be recognised by Scottish audiences of the past decade. Unfortunately, the combination of his estate's notorious sensitivity to interpretations and the production of those scripts which explicitly address post-apocalyptic society (Godot, Happy Days and, most recently, Endgame) provide a vision of an artist happily churning out the same metaphorical representations of alienation and a tedious, hostile universe.

It seems hardly fair to blame Dominic Hill for not bringing the full imagination of his distinctive directorial style to bear on The Citizens' production of Endgame. Had he tried to feature an ensemble cast performing live music, or rolled a few doors across the stage in his usual manner, the estate might have rescinded his right to use the script. Instead, he presents a generic Beckett, all monologues delivered in actorly tones, snarking conversations and heavily symbolic staging. Old people in dustbins and a man who cannot walk - I wonder what the subtext could be?

Because Hill could do much more with the text. Subtle hints are littered about the script suggesting that, actually, Endgame is commenting on the tedious ritual of theatre itself. The fourth wall gets tickled by some of the monologues - who else can they be addressing than the audience? Repeated mentions of 'the play', the atmosphere of repetition even around actions that, within Endgame, could only happen once (like the protagonist's mum dying, or the exhaustion of the painkillers). At one point, when he's told to stop singing, Clov replies 'but how else can this end?', a reference to the French tradition of finishing the evening with a song. 

Of course, alienation never goes out of fashion. But Endgame and Happy Days express the alienation of a specific historical period: it is after WWII, the nuclear bomb has just revealed itself and environmental devastation has just popped up. Putting aside our current government's enthusiasm for austerity and the fashionable references to post-war rationing (Keep Calm and Keep Watching Godot), the nature of alienation now does not involve a lack of stuff and a worry that the USSR and the USA are going to slap each other around until there's just a blank wilderness outside. 

Even giving Clov and Hamm hipster beards would be a start...

Friday, 12 February 2016

St Valentine Ideas...

It's Valentine's 'weekend', apparently. While I am all for celebrating saint's days - especially if the saint happens to be a Jesuit - I'm not sure that expanding it to a weekend is going to help those of us who are 'exploring celibacy as a valid lifestyle option'. 

But I am sniffing a social media bandwagon. Here's five ways to celebrate...

Get some Cock at the Tron
Since I am already a persona non grata round the east end theatre, thanks to a series of crass headlines, I might as well keep up the vulgarity. Cock is a play about the drama that happens when identity politics collide with desire, or when the fictional idea of 'love' conflicts with lived reality.

There's a guy and his lover, and his other lover, then the lover's dad turns up and Mick Bartlett's script dissects the intersection of the public and the political. Andy Arnold directs with sparse precision. It's an uncomfortable ninety minutes, which might make you a better person.

Consider your desires at Club Noir
It's the world's biggest burlesque club, and the men dress up like me: I was there at New Year, and felt like it was a tribute to critics who like to buy suits and look like a 1950s' detective. 

But don't let that put you off: it's a party that is made by the audience. There are always great acts on stage - which are either excellent entertainment or a challenge to our prurience about sexual performance, depending on how far you want to take the critic theme. This is my concession to people who actually want to have fun this weekend. 

Go to Mass, you bloody pagan
Yep, Valentine is another example of how Christianity has defined our calendar. On Sunday morning, get along to Duns Scotus to celebrate the Eucharist in the presence of the saint's bones.

Long before he was commercially exploited, St Valentine had a feast that replaced the Roman Lupercalia - a holiday for fertility, banishing evil spirits and animal sacrifice antics. He had set up a kind of ancient Gretna Green service, He was also a doctor, so going to mass is a nice way to have a pop at Jeremy Hunt.

Support the Junior Doctors
Now I have mentioned Jeremy Hunt, to the mystification of readers outside the UK, there's a big row going on: a government minister, who has such a bad reputation that his name is now rhyming slang, is trying to impose a new contract on Junior Doctors, who are already tripping balls due to not getting enough sleep. 
Just add C-

Not sure how to show support - petitions are not my thing - but a little bit of Christian love sent out to the doctors would respect St V. Maybe you could dress up as a doctor for Club Noir.

Remember the Involuntary Celibates of Criticism
There are those among us who have given up on romance in order to take a shamanic journey to the heart of performance art. Why not send them some chocolates, or roses, or a card? The CCA on Sauchiehall Street will accept these and pass them on...

Thursday, 11 February 2016

It's Not That Dark, Mate...

When Nick Kent interviews Shane McGowan (The Dark Stuff) and describes the experience of The Pogues on tour with the increasingly addled singer, he doesn't make any qualitative judgments. It is accepted that McGowan is a gifted songwriter ('you've got a God-given talent') and even in the face of his band's frustration, he is the star of the show.

Nick Kent's compilation of articles is a clear-sighted meditation on the status of decadence in the rock world. At some point, the heroic levels of drug-taking, drinking and obnoxious egotism might have counted as 'revolutionary', but Kent is intelligent enough to recognise how predictable this trope became. McGowan is a late entry into the annals of rock'n'roll debauchery: his glory days were the late 1980s into the 1990s, and he was soon eclipsed by the aesthetics of electronic dance music. Everyone got to neck the pills in that revolution.

Yet rock criticism has never been about assessing the quality of the music. It might lend a bit of context to an album or concert tour, but it is more frequently about the personalities behind the art. There is nothing surprising in Kent's chat with McGowan - he admits as much - and it operates to emphasise the established version of the artist-as-alcoholic/hedonist.

Although Kent is often a good writer, he works in a medium that has little interest in critiquing the art: at its worst, it is hagiography, at its best, it is a character study. And it rarely gets to grips with the context or nature of the art itself, unless Simon Reynolds has got a bit of time on his hands, as in Retromania.

Is this criticism as a process to maintain an accepted narrative?