Wednesday, 2 March 2016

I saw a play and you'll never guess what happened next...

I'll tell you what the real crime is...

Many people suspect the truth: I became a critic because there is a gnawing void in my soul - what Sartre called 'the god-shaped hole'. I am alienated beyond measure, so full of my first world problems and as religion is rejected as a viable model for the discussion of ideas, I turned to performance. I hope for a peak experience, like that time when I saw Les Ballets C de la B, during which my existential anxiety is displaced by ecstasy.

By ecstasy, I mean that moment when my aesthetic, emotional and intellectual capacities are filled to overflowing, and my soul dances like one of Blake's libidinal angels.

This brings me to the matter of Iphigenia in Splott

It's a dynamic example of theatre's potential to engage the emotions. Despite being set in a bit of Wales I have never visited - for Glasgow fans, it's a bit like Govan, I reckon - it draws me into a story about a young women stuck at the bottom of the social ladder. And despite never having been knocked up by a faithless soldier, I felt earnest empathy with this woman, and left outraged by this bloody society that gives me all this privilege.

The script is amazing: combining an attention to local detail and a passionate plea for compassion, it roves across urban dystopia, state oppression and emotional alienation. And the central - solo - performance is note perfect. For those of us jaded by emotion, it's a rare chance to feel something in our shriveled consumerism souls. 
Back in The Thatcher Years, there was loads of explicitly angry political theatre. Then Tony Blair came along, and integrated the arts into society - remember Cool Britannia? Sure, the artists turned on him, but the emphasis on art as socially useful and important - an instrument for pacifying the population - was established. 

That's a rant for another time, but Iphigenia doesn't pull any punches. Her tragedy is caused by the state. The cuts in the NHS, and the marginalisation of the proletariat, loiter around the drama like the ghost of a pissed up Eton Toff. And it transmits the rage, the anguish. It's a polemic, and its not ashamed.

Here's what you get. A script. One actor. A suggestive yet minimal set. Some lighting. And then - boom... it is like an object lesson in how the basics can bring home the theatrical bacon. 

Fond memories of Big Male Actors aside, Iphigenia has a solo turn that is a reminder of why 'acting' is a cool profession. Diderot said the actor performs an emotion, and the audience experiences it. I needed a very stiff drink after seeing this at the Fringe - and the character ends up with a drink problem. 

The lighting does just enough to shift atmospheres (similar to the way Blackbird at The Citz works it).

Okay, here's my problem. The rage is so clear, it feels as if going to see the show is activism. It isn't. Unless the audience does something about the issues raised, they are just consuming, like watching We Will Rock You. My rage got even more intense when I heard audience members acting like they deserve a man badge for listening. 

As it goes, the political logic is flawed, and ends up being defeatist. I'll blather on about how theatre is fundamentally middle-class (the way it is watched is all to do with the work of the romantics... another time, I promise). And here's a prime example: come see the lady rant, go home with leftist prejudices confirmed, and do nothing. 

This is where we get into my subjectivity, and this ought not bother you. If you don't go and see it, you lose. If you do, expect your conscience to be troubled by my anxiety.

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