Category Archives: reaction

Waiting For Godot, directed by Benjamin Gilani

So, some of us have excellent friends who buy us tickets to see Waiting for Godot and then come with us to see it. (To be quite honest, Motley Productions could have advertised for the play a little more efficiently, but I daresay someone who followed theatre news with more avidity than I would’ve known about it – actually, someone did. still. One would not know unless  one were looking for the information. This is why Bangalore’s theatre scene is torpid, darlings. It’s not us, it’s you.)

Anyway, we arrived on time, got in fine, yaddi yadda. We paid serious attention to the gravely ponderous IFA infomercial. (The background music suggested that someone important and beautiful was going to die tragically any moment.)

Finally. Estragon wrestled with his shoe as Vladimir walked on. My friend (henceforth referred to as R.)  and I never quite warmed to Akash Khurana’s portrayal of Vladimir – it felt always like he was portraying someone else, from some other play, using V’s lines. (Too, R. agrees with me that his behaviour with the little boy who announces Godot’s absence was a little creepy.) Benjamin Gilani as Estragon is delightfully natural and unnatural at once, just as a Beckett speaker should be.

The play didn’t drag – though one did tend to phase in and out simply because the dialogue demanded we do some thinking. Even Pozo and Lucky couldn’t keep R. following the linear narrative (such as it is). Naseeruddin Shah – is anyone, ever, allowed to be critical of Shah? – was lovely. He commanded the stage – I’m not sure whether it’s a stage presence or sheer volume of personality as a real life person, but there are moments when it’s impossible to look at anyone else. Lucky was played by an obviously bewigged, very young and fit Randeep Hooda. (Sometimes very unconvincingly. He just looked too strong to be as tired as he was supposed to be. R. insists that there always ought to be eye-candy, and I am torn between agreeing and booing the costumers for not covering up his chest. Old men should look old, people!)

Three-fourths through the first act, a smartly-dressed woman walked determinedly on the stage. Someone, she announced, had parked their car(s)  in front of her garage. She wanted them moved. Now. It took us a while to realise she wasn’t a part of the play. Shah stood up, announced that the show would not go on, and walked out. Our first artistic hissy fit! Gilani and co. followed him off. Five minutes later, people were walking out, people were staying in their seats, and finally Gilani came onstage and asked us to wait while the whole mess was sorted out. Our compere talks about how the incident was a disgrace, and in general an insult to both the artists and the audience.  (R. says she’d side with the woman with the garage, who is obviously the injured party. Some people have no sense of space, shame, or other people’s entitlements.)

Licence plate numbers were called out, and shamefaced audience members went out to deal with their cars as everyone else applauded their civic sense.

The show went on. Luckily, we’d stopped just a few lines before “In the meantime, nothing happens.” More applause. We hadn’t quite settled in yet to the play, as opposed to the parking drama outside.

Intermission! Which is good, we needed the break. WfG is not a play that’s easy to follow – it’s not meant to be “followed”, but you can’t help trying. It doesn’t help that right in front us people were going “I don’t get it” and variations thereof.

Second act, second verse, more of the same. I was flagging a bit by now, and seriously, if it weren’t for Gilani I think I’d’ve gone to sleep. Khurana did not work for me, and since Vladimir does more angsting this is a problem.

At the curtain’s final close, more applause – as much relief as jubilation. Naseeruddin Shah (it was something of a relief to see him coming onto the stage tidy: in the second act, Pozo is a bit bedraggled) apologised to thew audience for losing his temper and his strong language in the first act. “To me, theatre is the most scared thing in my life,” he said. “And the audience is also sacred.” Naseeruddin Shah thinks we’re sacred! I am thrilled, R. is literally laughing at me. Apparently I should not wait for Shah to validate my sacredness.

Shah did acknowledge the woman who walked in and disturbed the proceedings – it’s not everyone who can walk into a reputed theatre, on to the stage, interrupt a performance and demand her rights. “I think maybe she wants to be an actress!” Shah said. He found this so funny he repeated it. (We love him even so.)

Bestest beginning to a birthday, ever.

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On Gifting, and Love: A Note

(This was originally posted 9/7/2007 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has not been edited since that first posting. I’m putting it here because I want the copy out and visible. Narcissism and the internet: need I say more?)

I came across this poem today, for what must be the fifth time:

On Marraige

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

~ Kahlil Gibran

My parents owned a copy of The Prophet. They still do. I read it when I was 10. There are no words, truly, to describe the experience of recognising but not comprehending beauty. It wafts around you, and perhaps through you. You cry and you are happy but you cannot for the life of you say why.

I read it again when I was 12. And this time it was worse, because sometimes I felt like it got it. It was like… doing a geometrical problem for which I had the key, only I didn’t understand the key, just held it in my unfeeling fingers.

I couldn’t tell you today whether I am romantic or not. Shall I put it like this: I do not believe that there is a soul-mate out there, waiting for me, but I do believe that I might meet someone, and together we might become each other’s soul-mates? Yes, I believe I shall indeed put it like that. But back when I was 12, I hadn’t formulated this theory. I didn’t really understand what I meant by the word “love” and why I shifted it around so much. I did know that someday some nice man/woman would charge up in a big black car, hand me a copy of The Prophet and ask me to marry him/her.

It wasn’t always a big shiny car. Sometimes she’d climb down a tree, and sit down beside me, and read the verse out loud, and I would listen to her. Sometimes he’d stop by me as I sat on a stone bench in my school playground, and he’d place the book in my hand, and I’d read to him. Sometimes we would alternate verse for verse. Sometimes we quoted them.

But that was the deal. I would have a someone. And I would know that someone because they gave me The Prophet.

have read the essaypoems since I was 12. They’re all over the internet, and sometimes I find them quoted or referenced in the books I read. I once read The Prophet from end to end online – right before I told someone I loved him, and he said he loved me back. (A month later he told me he couldn’t love anyone. But that’s not his fault, or Gibran’s fault, or mine.) And I couldn’t think what our future might be, I couldn’t figure out what adjustments we’d both have to make to each other, but one day I knew we would sit down in a small little pub playing very loud metal music, and I’d read The Prophet to him, and that would be me saying “I love you”, and him listening to me and knowing I was saying it.

And saying it back.

But, well, see, this man had not heard of Gibran – at least I do not know if he had. It’s not a question of his intelligence or readingness, you understand – I just was fairly sure he had not read Gibran because we’d never talked about poetry – not much, anyway. Perhaps we would have? (Does that matter?) And because he’d not read Gibran, he wouldn’t be able to buy The Prophet for me. Not unless I told him to, which is not the point of the fantasy.

And so I would have to buy it for him.

I made plans, you know. The buying of the copy. The giving. The speech – it was very long, and it was perfect; it was very short, and it was perfect; it wasn’t there at all, and it was perfect. And the reading. And the keeping. And.

Well. That one fell through, and I never even told him about Gibran. I was, and still am, a coward in these things. I want the people who love me to say that they love me, and to say it before I do so that it is not me that risks rejection but them. I want to not be the instigator of love because that way I am not the one who has made the demands. In my need to be ultra-perfect I can be ultra-passive. And when I fall short – as I cannot help, being simultaneously unstable and human – I try even harder to be the GooseGirl Princess. And if I am the Goosegirl hard enough, well enough, they shall give me The Prophet and that will prove that they love me.

I haven’t held and read a tangible copy of The Prophet since I was in my teens. I have never owned it. I have never received it as a gift. I may never receive it as a gift. Perfect romance exists, but it rarely plays to the storyteller in your head.

Unless, of course, your storyteller shifts her story. It’s the mark of a good storyteller, isn’t it? The the story is not so much unmarkable dross but instead the result of a caring, a commitment, a shaping – a sharing?

I don’t believe in the essentiality of a soulmate. I think I can live without one. I don’t think I can force the forging of that kind of bond. But maybe, maybe someday there will be one. And I would like to think that s/he and I will know it because one day I stretched out my hand and said, Do You Read Kahlil Gibran?

Yes or No, it won’t matter.

The Prophet

Hiding from the Holocaust

THIS IS NOT A REVIEW. IT’S A REACTION TO THE BOOK THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS BY JOHN BOYNE. IT CONTAINS BIG MASSIVE SPOILERS. REALLY BIG MASSIVE SPOILERS. THE ENDING OF THE BOOK, EVEN. IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK, YOU MUST LOOK AT THE SHOUTING TEXT AND GO AWAY. BIG. MASSIVE. SPOILERS.

So. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne was one of the big children’s books of the year for 2006. Or perhaps it wasn’t. it has a nine-year old boy named Bruno as protagonist, and is told almost entirely from his point of view – actually, that’s a lie. There’s an omniscient third person narrator who explains Bruno to the audience. This third person narrator is very clearly an adult. What’s not clear is who his listeners are.

Bruno is nine years old, and he lives in Berlin… until his father gets a new job which requires them all to leave and live in Out-With. Out-With is Bruno’s attempt to pronounce Auschwitz, and I daresay you know what this story might be dealing with. Bruno’s nine-year old persona allows other mispronunciations like “Fury” for Führer. The construction of the novel – a very short novel it is, too – tries to keep the facts of where Bruno is a secret from the child reader throughout the novel, and from the adult reader for a short amount of time. (Surprise is meant to be an integral part of the novel. The blurb tells you little more than that there is a fence, and that the book is not for nine-year olds.)

Well, there they all are, Bruno and his older sister and his mother and his father, in a house outside Auschwitz boundaries. Bruno explores – ho hum, a nine-year old boy who explores a lot – and meets a boy standing on the other side of the fence. Shmuel is the only boy Bruno’s age around – even if he’s on the wrong side. He wears striped pyjamas, a drab blue and grey. The two become friends.

Over the course of the novel Bruno discovers that the people on the other side of the fence are “not people”, according to his father. He learns to fear the way in which these non-people can be treated when they’re brought over to his home to perform menial labour. He learns to distrust young soldiers who treat these non-people badly. He learns that fear can make you betray your closest friends… blah blah.

It’s a learning book. I suspect the marketers expect that the child who reads the novel is expected to have a parent nearby who will say, Well Honey, there was this thing called the Holocaust…

I wonder how this book translates into German. What happens to the Out-With and the Fury.

Anyway. At some point, Bruno’s mother decides they can’t live next to hell anymore, and she and the children are set to move back to Berlin.

Bruno goes to say goodbye to Shmuel. A lot of the book has talked about Shmuel’s thinness, and worries about living in the camp – worries muted down so Bruno cannot recognise their severity – and now, today, Shmuel’s father is missing. Bruno wants one last adventure. He slips under the fence, into Out-With, into Auschwitz. He borrows a pair of striped pyjamas, to blend in, and he and Shmuel hunt for the missing father. (Missing absent and distant fathers are a theme of the text.)

And of course, they get herded into a gas chamber and they die.

When Bruno’s father finally figures out where his son has gone, he feels guilt and responsibility.

It’s a moving text. A lot more gripping than the blunt thing I have described here. And therein lies my problem.

The Holocaust is a big thing. Important, historically and even now. It carries a great deal of baggage. People make it their lives’ work to deny it happened, or find more and more proofs that it did.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is not about Shmuel. It’s not about the various Jewish people Bruno meets and feels sorry for, or feels friendly toward. It’s about Bruno. Who ignorantly and voluntarily puts on a pair of striped pyjamas and dies for it. Bruno’s tragedy. Bruno’s innocence.

Shmuel is, in many senses, Bruno’s narrative double. They are friends, they share the same birthday. They both search for Shmuel’s father (In this text that means something). They hold hands when they die. But the book closes on Bruno’s family’s grief at his death/disappearance.

Does the book make us feel the horror of the Holocaust by linking Bruno and Shmuel? Or does it simply push that aside by making us look at a random accidental victim? Is Bruno’s death meant to punish his soldier-father, who is in charge of Auschwitz? Take that, Nazi man, see how you feel when your son dies?

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas doesn’t actively refer to the Holocaust in any way. It actively hides it, and to my mind, even negates it. I am sorrier for Bruno than I am for Shmuel.

This isn’t right. Is it?

On Friday, the 18th of May, 2007, I saw Equus.

I. Watched. Equus! [To the tune of “This! Is! Spartaaaaaaaaaa!” With less “aaaaa”, I grant you, for “Equus” ends with “us”.]

I went with two friends who had not read the play before. I sold them on the idea with “Daniel Radcliffe naked!” Which, you know, was not at all false advertising, since technically Daniel Radcliffe did get naked, even though really, really, it was Alan Strang naked before us on stage, Alan Strang exposed to our pitilessly pitying gazes.

In many ways, having a fucking famous barely legal almost-still-a-child actor play the role was an annoying distraction. I (brace yourselves! for! a story! of! My! Life!) was sixteen when I first read Peter Shaffer‘s Five Finger Excercise, and I was still sixteen when I read his Equus. I had an almost-boyfriend, then. I adored him from nearby. I could tell you stuff, but let’s limit it to: I read fiction, and he did not. It was a glorious argument, one we had many, many times. Courtship at sixteen is cute.

Me: Fiction can explore depths of the human psyche without entering into professional and literary vulturistic cannibalism.
Him: Fiction is shit. I’ll prove it!
He lent me his dad’s copy of Equus. Well, it had three plays in it, but Equus was what I was supposed to read.

Him: Read that. You’ll see what I mean. Fiction is sick.

I wonder, now, if he ever read Lolita. I wonder if he went back to fiction, and said, Sickness is real. Tears are real. Smiles are true. I have them all in my life, and I shall have them in my literature.

I read it. I loved it.

I’ll be honest: I pictured my almost-boyfriend as Alan Strang. Thin. Gentle. Soft for the most part, but extraordinarily sensitive to what could hurt you, or soothe you. And willing to initiate both. Martin Dysart passed me by – it took me years to see that the play could be read as a tragedy. Strang’s tragedy, Dysart’s failing. I never realised the importance of Worship, and what Dysart thought he was taking away.

My almost-boyfriend, in time, became my boyfriend. And in time, my ex-boyfriend, and my friend. And now we have not spoken to each other for… a year, it must be. I no longer see Alan Strang in him. I no longer see him in Alan Strang. I know them both better.

But. On Friday, the 18th of May, 2007, three women paid fifty pounds each for Dress Circle seats to watch Equus. At least one of us had decided that she would drink herself to a sorry grave if Daniel Radcliffe messed up this important role. To be the priest of Equus, only begotten son of Fleckwus.

Thea Sharrock directs this revival. I’ve never considered doing anything for the stage – certainly I’m not very good on or off it. I resigned myself willingly and eagerly to the role of “person in audience who might cry if something sad happens”. And so perhaps it should be taken lightly that I say, I would have directed Equus slow. Alan Strang would have been passively sullen. His hostility would have been muted and rigid, to contrast with his electric moments with Equus/Nugget. His moments of attack would be sharp, but again quiet. Dysart would be tired. Always tired, save when he was with Strang, when he would be calm, tranquil, dismissive – a facade over that tiredness.

Thea Sharrock’s vision was brisk. Or perhaps the word I am looking for is energetic. Under her direction, Richard Griffith’s Dysart is a caustic, caring man, whose emotional tiredness has not yet affected his physical efficiency. I suspect almost all of the foundation for the character in this production comes from “Doctor and Doctor Mac Brisk”, as opposed to, “I gave her the same thing: antiseptic proficiency” – which is not really the same thing at all, at all. This Dysart speaks quickly, carelessly, drawlingly. He rarely slows, rarely crawls. (My Dysart crawls.)

Under Sharrock, Radcliffe’s Strang is an actively defensive, defensively hostile seventeen year old. It jarred very severely with how I read things, and it jarred a great deal during his moments of attack/defence with Dysart. When you attack – and when you defend – actively, you speak quicker than your opponent, you raise your voice above his. You move your body to loom over his. Faced with Doctor MacBrisk, Alan Strang has a quickness – speed – of speech that is jarring for a non-English person, unused to normal quick British accents. I suspect that the native speakers in the audience did not find that quickness out of the ordinary. In fact, I bet they found it energising, and certainly it was very funny, when it needed to be.

Contrasted with these quick, hard, callous interactions, Strang’s moment with Equus are poetry in motion. There were six of them – men on raised platform-heels shaped like large hooves. They wore silver cage-masks shaped like horses heads. They had red eyes. They writhed. They were horses, not men, and their sensuality – and their tenderness with Strang – was beautiful in the extreme. Strang’s ritual – his worship – his betrayal by falling to lust – his fear – his attack – they are beautiful. They rend the heart. They must have been extremely physically demanding performances, for all concerned.

And in that climactic scene where Strang runs insanely around the stables, leaping to reach at their eyes, before collapsing so that Dysart – the ghost in the reenactment, the enactment, can come and cover his nakedness and hold him till he sleeps, one can find tragedy. Dysart shall take from him his worship. So Dysart fears. Dysart is the priest of normality, Strang the priest of Equus. And Strang is not up to his duties, so Dysart shall take them from him.

Or perhaps not? Perhaps the boy grows, and finds, as so many priests who are allowed to marry, that he can have both worlds, so long as he gives up a little of both? Perhaps he learns to live in the one and not mind the loss of the other? Not all celibate priests are unhappy sexual stalkers.

Perhaps.