Thursday, 26 January 2012

my head's in a haze

You'd think I'd have Shrew out of my system by now, but apparently not. I wrote the last post much too quickly, hurling it out before moving on to the next thing, so it's super-scrappy and missed out whole strands of argument, many of which emerged in the comments on the piece in G2. The one that has particularly bugged me is the idea that Petruchio does Katherine a favour: he shows her that to treat people violently, to thrash out at others not necessarily indiscriminately, but as an externalised expression of your own self-loathing, is unacceptable and merely reinforces your own unhappiness. It's one thing for her to tie up her sister's hands and clout her: that's what siblings are for (spoken like a true older sister). But Kate also smashes a lute over Hortensio's head, is unable to express herself other than rudely, demands respect from her father while showing none. Lisa Dillon was good on this: she thinks what Katherine achieves with Petruchio is “a growth and a maturity. She's disgracefully immature to begin with. Most of the time she deserves what she gets [ie the epithets of shrew and mad], because she's fuelling it all the time. But she finds a place of balance, for the first time ever in her life, because of this man.”

Approach the play with this understanding and you can read Petruchio's violence completely differently: as a show, designed to make Katherine rethink her own behaviour. Nichola McAuliffe suggests (and I think she's right, that it's there, if subtly, in the text) that Petruchio's servants are bewildered by his erratic, pugnacious behaviour: he doesn't usually treat them this way, and the point of him doing so is to reflect Katherine back at herself. And it works: Katherine, in standing up for the servants, begins to appreciate the value of respect. She finds in herself calm, and patience, and a kind of gratitude: she realises how much in life she has taken for granted before now. If Petruchio has killed something in her, it's her toxic rage at the world – and only kindness could assuage that. There was something lovely Kathryn Hunter said: Katherine's story is “the journey of a person who's learned how to play again”. To begin with, “she's rebelling against the kind of constraints that are expected of her, to get married and to conform, she's hitting against that and is angry with everyone, to the extent that she's lost her sense of humour. I think something happens in their relationship, it suddenly clicks and she gets it back, and then she's able to love him and say, 'So you want me to play that game? OK, I'll play it.' She finds a freedom within constraints. She finds freedom.” It's the freedom of happiness and security; OK, it's the freedom of a traditionally structured marriage, where Petruchio is her “keeper”, but 400-odd years ago, that was pretty much the best a woman could hope for.

I'm starting to feel like Shrew is an itch that will never sufficiently be scratched. So I'm going to stop – although first, there was something else that came out of the piece that has troubled me a lot. The day it was published I had an email from Tim Crouch, querying the assumptions projected by my throwaway comment that Bailey's production is the third from the RSC in a decade, fourth if you count his adaptation for young people. We had both agreed, while chatting on the phone, that it was really sad that only Dominic Cavendish had reviewed his production, and that this was symptomatic of the lack of value placed on work for children and teenagers. And the way I'd phrased myself, it looked as though I was collaborating in the same devaluation that I usually bemoan. I've been feeling entirely ashamed of myself: I knew I was being glib even as I wrote it, and Tim was absolutely right to call me on it.

Believe it or not, I've been thinking about stuff other than Shrew over the past week. I've been mulling on L'Immediat, which I saw at the Barbican with Lyn Gardner, and probably really annoyed her with all my fidgeting. I found the show exhausting, really draining to watch. The first sequence – Matt Trueman made a point similar to this – is like the entirety of Michael Frayn's Noises Off condensed into 10 minutes of stomach-churning chaos. When one of the performers started scrambling up a tower of cardboard boxes that I hadn't even noticed, despite it reaching up to the lighting rig, I instinctively pushed myself right back into my chair to brace myself against its inevitable collapse. Where I disagree with Matt is in finding the rest of the show a deflation of that first sequence. What follows is quieter, but all the more desperate for it. There is an extraordinary, devastating scene when the cast attempt to re-set the stage, and someone's arm emerges from the rubble. It's as though we're seeing the survivor of an earthquake, or a bomb, reaching out for help, praying to be saved – but instead of pulling the person out, the rest of the cast merely shrug and pile furniture above the trapped body, higher and higher, until what they've created is a pyre (let's burn humanity at the stake!), a tower of landfill (see the detritus of materialism!), a curiously hopeful – because it is secure, this structure, it's architecturally sound – sculpture constructed from the flotsam and jetsam of our lives (not dissimilar to the exhilarating, and themselves farcical, creations of Phyllida Barlow). With newspapers full of images of the Costa Concordia lying on its side in the sea, it was hard to watch the tilting sequence – slowly, deliberately, everything on stage, furniture and bodies and black satin curtains and lights and props, is tilted to the same 30-degree angle – and not think of sinking ships. The agonising, funny in a toe-curling way, sketch of people fighting to reach a plastic bottle, struggling against their own refractory bodies, competing and losing and yet never allowing themselves to be defeated, had the clang of Beckett about it: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” For all its humanity, it's an oddly inhumane piece, furiously demanding of its performers, so precisely choreographed that you're loathe to blink in case you miss a detail, even if that detail exposes the fragility of the timing, the vulnerability of the enterprise. My exhaustion was that of undivided attention; I found it draining because, for all the laughter, it is a relentlessly sorrowful work.

It's been a good week for extracurricular activities, too. I've made an infinitesimally small leap – more of a nudge, really – towards finally fulfilling some sewing projects, with progress on the all-new basic pattern block, designed to fit perfectly my all-new, still surprising, occasionally demoralising, post-childbearing shape. I've tried out another basic, this one from the awe-inspiring Pattern Magic books, and my Mum, who is herself a magician with patterns, from a combination of experience and formidable instinct, gave me a hand with the fitting over Christmas. There is such quick, calm efficiency about her as she folds and creases the paper to shift the darts and eliminate excess fabric; the process is as delicate, transparent, yet mystifying, as origami. On Tuesday I cut out a toile from the edited pattern; if it fits then I'll be all set for the 40s/50s dress-making class that starts next term.

Tap class, which started three weeks ago, is unspeakably brilliant. I spend the entire time there giddy and grinning and glowing fuchsia-pink, partly because it's bloody hard and I'm always getting the steps wrong (I have no instant aptitude for intricate, particularly repetitive, body movements; I had the same problem trying to play guitar when I was a teenager, although back then I had no patience for practice, either: at least I've now acquired that), partly because it's surprisingly good exercise. My route home takes me past Crazy for You, which I saw in December: it was so adorable, cheerful and spirited and depression-defying (the narrative itself is, plus I had only just left the Actionettes), that I left feeling almost effervescent and started looking for tap classes the next day. Somewhat unfortunately, the route also takes me past the Delauney; I sidled in yesterday and am relieved to report that the coconut and pineapple dacquoise didn't taste quite as good as it looked: the pineapple puree was too sweet, and made the bottom layer of coconut macaroon soggy where it should have been crisp. There's still the cheesecake and the sachertorte to try before I dismiss the place outright, but chances are moderate that it won't become a weekly compulsion, which would be ruinous in more ways than one. It's bad enough that I can't go within 200 paces of Maison Bertaux without popping in for a macaroon. I did, however, exceedingly enjoy eating the dacquoise while waiting for the bus, licking every smudge of cream from my fingers, standing outside Boots, directly in front of a large advertisement for half-price weight-watching products. It's the little things in life …

Lots of musical activity this week, too. I finally listened to the new Andrew Bird and it's exquisite, so here's a song from that:

and the Laura Gibson album, La Grande: she's not someone I've paid much attention to before, but this song is brilliant, all shooting stars and Amazon queens and wild animals prowling through the undergrowth:

After a lot of avoiding him, because on first listen (several months ago) he honestly just seemed scary, I suddenly clicked with DM Stith, and had an especially heady moment with Fire of Birds, so here's that:

A breakthrough, too, with Wilco's The Whole Love, which I'd shaken hands with a couple of times last year, but hadn't taken the time to chat to: I don't think it will ever be a close friend like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Summerteeth, but we'll keep in touch.

Honestly, no wonder I was accused this week of knowing nothing about Motown. It's in the comments below my review of Martha Reeves, a show I really tried to be positive about, but failed. I suspected disaster might be afoot when I went to the toilets before the show began and there were leopard-print tiles on the walls. One unexpected consequence of reading How To Be a Woman is that I now have a disquieting desire for a leopard-print coat (page 215, number one on the list of fashion rules: Leopardskin is a neutral. Oh, the power of suggestion). I thought it was a vague fancy that could be easily silenced, but then I met up with the magical Betty Clarke and wore hers (vintage, an ebay buy, calf-length, very luxurious, but the fur was the softest, palest grey colour – I'd ruin it within minutes) and the desire became all-consuming. Of course, when a thought like that enters your brain, you become weirdly possessed (OK, maybe it's just me): now it seems everywhere I go I spot another one. Mostly they are too short, too straight, too modern-looking, so clearly I'm going to have to make my own. The picture I have in my mind is knee-length, fitted to the waist but flaring out, with a big, sweeping collar. I've sewn with leopard-print fake fur before, making a cave-woman frock for an Actionettes show in Benidorm (a multitude of don't asks), and it's blessedly easy, primarily because it doesn't fray. Knowing me, the coat will be ready just in time for summer in 2016.

Anyway, it was fine seeing leopard-print coats everywhere, but the minute I saw these leopard-print tiles I remembered that hilarious, terrifying riff in Mark O'Rowe's coruscating Howie the Rookie, about the – was it American Indian? South American? - people who believe that your death will be presaged by some vision that will inexorably present itself to you once, twice, thrice, its import unknown until death deals its fatal blow. Like I say, I'm susceptible – and the leopard-print tiles made me pause, and shiver, just slightly.

I won't repeat what I thought of Martha's singing, there's no need. Still, one good thing did come of that show. When she played Heatwave, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping out of my chair and doing what's affectionately known in the Actionettes' camp as the Brucie; when she started demonstrating the pony and the swim and the mashed potato and the funky chicken, my heart began to ache and wouldn't stop. The truth is, the past two months of not being an Actionette have been miserable, and they haven't even been doing that much. So, I've rejoined. Yay! In celebration, here is a completely ridiculous video of go-go girls: it's from a Greek film, whose name translates, splendidly, as Ah That's My Wife.

1 comment:

  1. Just read this in The Female Eunuch: "Kate is a woman striving for her own existence in a world where she is a stale, a decoy to be bid for against her sister’s higher market value, so she opts out by becoming unmanageable, a scold. Bianca has found the women’s way of guile and feigned gentleness to pay better dividends: she woos for herself under false colours, manipulating her father and her suitors in a perilous game which could end in her ruin. Kate courts ruin in a different way, but she has the uncommon good fortune to find Petruchio who is man enough to know what he wants and how to get it. He wants her spirit and her energy because he wants a wife worth keeping. He tames her...and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty.” And also: “Kate’s speech at the close of the play...rests upon the role of a husband as protector and friend, and it is valid because Kate has a man who is capable of being both, for Petruchio is both gentle and strong...” Pretty fascinating stuff, I think...