Thursday, 6 June 2013

It's NotStalgia....

Simon Reynolds’ Retromania has become my bedtime reading for the past month.  In accord with his analysis of pop music’s preoccupation with the past, it brought it long after it had been remaindered. Reynolds worries that rock’n’roll, and its electronic music relatives, has become trapped in the recycling of the past. Adding in the occasional jeremiad against the instant availability of everything on the Internet, and shot through with the intellectual snobbery that every critic owns, Reynolds sees either a mainstream culture crippled by precedents, and an underground wallowing in nostalgia.

Reynolds doesn’t point out that fear is most likely at the root. The present hasn’t been looking dandy for a few years now. The so-called nostalgia that he detects in The Aphex Twin isn’t a retro-futurism but a melancholy that expects the grand adventure of science fiction to have the same qualities as the drab now.

And so, I shall pick, almost at random, some Fringe presentations that give voice to the horror that is today.

The Project (Zoo) is ‘centred on a dystopian theatre company.’ Frankly, if I had planned to make my point, I couldn’t have flicked onto a better entry. It’s a play about a miserable play. Sure, they get onto some questioning of the spectator: inspiration through discomfort all round, then.
On the same page, there’s Positive (Paradise in the Kirkhouse). Yes, it says it is comedy, it says it is heart-warming. But the positive does refer to HIV, and it’s still too soon to make this a complete chuckle-fest. I am sure the triumph of the human spirit will feature – but it will be compromised by the ‘heaviest baggage of all.’

Desdemona, The Story of a Handkerchief appears twice (Sweet Grassmarket and theSpace). I think I know how this one is going to end, regardless of the two productions roaring 20s update and ‘capricious, lustful woman’ respectively. A woman is going to get suffocated for suspected adultery – even if she’d done it, choking on a pillow is a harsh punishment. Just because it’s Shakespeare, doesn’t mean it’s a laugh riot.

The Bloody Ballad (Assembly Roxy) speaks for itself. The live band are called The Missin’ Fingers. It claims to be ‘a whole lotta fun’ but it is merely a mark of our pessimistic age that slasher movie chic can be reinvested into musical theatre.

Racing to the end, and hoping that it isn’t too noticeable that I have picked stuff at random and pretended they have continuity, I bring you Ten out of Ten (Assembly Hall). It claims to be a comic peak into triumphs and disasters. In the same press release, there’s a quote that names it ‘Death of a Salesman for the 21st Century.’ Either that’s a critic who doesn’t know his Millers, or the comedy has got a wee bit of an edge.

I didn’t even have to look for the plays that call themselves absurdist. Mind you, thinking about them, I notice that only Desdemona looks backwards for inspiration. Take that, Simon Reynolds: who needs the past to feel uncomfortable. The present works just fine.

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