All entries for October 2006
October 31, 2006
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You can no longer see me;
the mirror told me
you were mute).
Now I am forgotten
as I flit
through your coloured-coded life.
You lost yourself;
trying to find me.
I was calling
(as I always did).
You sank yourself
into a reflection
you knew –
secret – scared.
I shake you
– have you back
– see as you notice
stood so close that I know
that your eyes are soft to the touch
and that your irises melt
with my fingertips.
But your pupils are black holes,
lost within themselves
and they no longer dilate in the light.
October 28, 2006
Andrew Motion at “Warwick Words”, October 2006.
By his own admission, the job of the Poet Laureate essentially ceased many years ago, and now al that remains is a ceremonial position, with the loose responsibility to churn out the odd poem for “national” celebrations, such as the Queen’s birthday, for example. “You don’t have to actually do anything”, Tony Blair had told Motion when he was appointed, a sentiment quickly echoed by Her Majesty the Queen – “You have no obligations to do a thing.” A poet’s paradise then; you have potentially an entire lifetime, from the moment you are appointed, to do nothing but write poetry, and you get paid for it – plus, even better, you get a whole lot of publicity which very nicely pays for a few pleasant family holidays in the Bahamas. But Andrew Motion is an odd fellow – you see, he actually cares. He’s everything you don’t expect to him to be, he does far more than he needs to, and he does it not for the glory of the Queen (who he talks of with a kind of affectionate patience), and certainly not for the glory of himself. He does it all for the advancing of the modern public’s consciousness and their appreciation of poetry. You see, here we have a really unusual species in the world of celebrity; a genuinely nice man.
I felt that I couldn’t really not go t his reading at the Warwick Words Writing Festival – I mean he is the Poet Laureate, and I’d never heard him read before, and well, I just had to, hadn’t I? The theatre in which he was performing was nearly empty and I was easily the youngest person there by about sixty years (with the exception of Motion himself who is only fifty-two years old, and therefore a veritable youngster) – I had a feeling this didn’t bode well. Predictably therefore, I had a wonderful evening. Within the first ten minutes I can genuinely say I was head over heels for Motion, as he smiled shyly every time we applauded his readings, and in the end had to ask us to please stop, it was embarrassing, and what would he do if we didn’t clap for a poem? Every time someone asked him question, he’d thank them politely, and then go on to answer it extensively, but always careful not to stray too far from the point. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his reading of some poems about his childhood, and the memory of the horse that would one day cause an accident, that would kill his mother, only after ten years in a coma. The childhood affection for the animal, as well as the adult man’s anger at it, mixed in his voice as he read the simple poem (one he described apologetically as “going over the page”), creating a stillness in the room that made the poem all the more moving.
He also talked convincingly of his ambition to raise the public’s awareness of poetry through his position, and said modestly that he hoped that even though he might not achieve his aim, he might, he hoped, have set the wheels in motion for future Poet Laureates. And although I may be biased as an aspiring poet myself, it has to be noted that he has the charming, unconscious ability, to make anyone want to write; he is unpretentious both in his poetry and in himself, he makes the world of poetics accessible, but even more than that, he makes it attractive. He is not overtly clever about this, nor does he preach – he is simply honest, and I think anyone who has met him would say that that is more enough to make them believe in him and his mission for this outdated position. He is not the Queen’s poet; he is the public’s poet. On the proviso, he’d be quick to point out, that we want him.
On a side note, as I left, he thanked me quietly for coming, and hoped I had a nice weekend. If it wasn’t for the door handle I was clinging to, I swear I would have swooned.
October 27, 2006
When you’re so tired
you can’t bear the world -
that’s when you really begin to live,
when you’re closest to the world
How difficult it is to love it,
unlike the moon at first light
carrying her weight so readily
But the world
longs for all it will never have again,
that’s the world’s heavyweight nature,
all its mountains have fear,
all its chasms have sadness
In rainy weary prime of life
the world endures its broad lawful wings of light,
not beautiful, not happy,
so tired you can’t bear it, how the world is
October 24, 2006
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October 16, 2006
Some of the most interpretive and experimental films of Shakespeare’s plays have been made of, or using the inspiration of his “final” play, The Tempest. In Derek Jarmon’s The Tempest, the play occurs in Prospero’s dreams; Peter Greenway’s Prospero’s Books, has the entire play is voiced by John Gielgud as Prospero, the story told by his magical books and powers.
And yet, it is rare to find a production of it in the theatre that strays far from the Shakespeare text, and many recent ones, such as The Crucible’s 2002 production starring Derek Jacobi as Prospero and Daniel Evans as Ariel, have stuck to the basic formula of the setting and character portrayal, especially of Prospero and Ariel; Prospero is a strong, majestic wizard, powerful, fearful and yet generally in the right. Ariel is the flighty spirit, ambiguous perhaps in gender, but loyal, dutiful and compassionate; a mature Puck from Shakespeare’s earlier magical romance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
With all these preconceptions, it is easy to be dulled into a sense of security when entering the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see the new production of this well loved play, part of the Complete Works festival in Stratford this year. However, as with all the most predictable expectations, they are quickly, and joyfully, dashed to pieces from the opening scene of the play, and are no less than turned on their head when the “spirit” of Ariel first enters, played masterfully by Julian Bleach, who shamelessly steals the show from even Patrick Stewart’s incredibly human and almost vulnerable Prospero.
Bleach, one of the founders of the award winning company, Shockheaded Peter, a performance of clowns and insane beings, with surreal music and sequences that evoke David Lynch’s unforgettable style, has recently acted in Terry Gilliam’s film, “The Brother’s Grimm”, and appears to have a startling ability to portray figures of mystery and intrigue with a sensitive mix of comedy, ambiguity, emotion and horror, culminating his talents in his masterful interpretation of Shakespeare’s notoriously difficult to stage spirit, Ariel.
He looks and acts as the archetypal Nosferatu, the ultimate vampire, imprisoned forever in his human body, a prison that must be to him, a being of fire and air, distasteful and unbearably confining. Bleach portrays this wonderfully through his awkward stance, holding himself permanently at an angle, his shoulders hunched and his arms, almost glued to his sides. His walk, slow and protracted, often taking up to five minutes to cross the stage, spoke volumes of a “spirit” confined, a being unable to adjust to the human form, unsure of how to work it, and in constant discomfort because of his material form.
Beach’s floor length, starched black jacket sat on him like a priest’s cassock, covering him almost completely, yet with enough starkness that the audience was left with the same awkwardness as if he had been wandering the stage naked, a body with a feeble physical appearance, but every centimetre of it scarred by the “spirit of the isle” fighting to escape it’s prison. His upright chalk – dusted hair and large, black eyes only intensified the image of a being terrified by himself and unable to come to terms with the ultimate insult and distaste of being human.
However, arguably, Bleach’s appearance could be passed off as unusual for Ariel, but nothing more. Or at least, it could be, if it weren’t for his voice; his elevation of it to something that sounds permanently ethereal, and his slow pronunciation of the words, his deliberate delivery of his lines, not to mention his eerie, high pitched singing, adds a whole new dimension to both the audience’s perception of his character, and the contextual issues that arise due to this interpretation of the character. It adds crucially to the air of mystery around Ariel, and makes his sinister appearance all the more memorable – it could almost be said, haunting – as his voice delivering the centuries’ old lines remains ringing in the ears of the audience long after the performance has ended.
However, this presentation of Ariel has a deeper contextual meaning, as it likens Ariel to the character of Caliban, something foreign and native to the island, adding a dimension to his character that is usually ignored as belonging to Caliban only.
With his awkward movement, his slanted speech and otherworldly accent, he become as much a foreign being as Caliban, albeit as more as something mysterious than monstrous. He does however; share the same disfiguring bodily qualities, the same linguistic difficulties that apparently, according to Prospero and Miranda, make Caliban a “creature of darkness”, a monster, a native of the island, which they have colonised.
The sympathy that is inevitably evoked for Ariel in this production, despite his strange behaviour, suggests a much more modern attitude to colonialism, as it is impossible not to feel the irony of Prospero talking of he freed Ariel from the tree in which Sycorax imprisoned him (possibly another reason for his awkward movements and difficult posture), only to “imprison” him once more into this enforced slavery, and the restricting human body.
The constraint Ariel feels due to this is outlined for the audience clearly and movingly in Bleach’s delivery of the line in response to Prospero’s enquiries of the state of his brother and Alonso, King of Naples and his companions, when he says only “…if you beheld them your affections | would become tender… mine would sir, were I human” (Act 5, Sc. I). Following this speech is the longest pause for the entire production, as Prospero digests the hugeness of the slavery and imprisonment that he has inflicted on this, supposedly, free spirit, and by the end of the same scene, he has set him free.
There is tenderness in Prospero’s farewell to Ariel that leaves the audience teary-eyed and with a deeper understanding of the relationship between the pair that is usually portrayed in other productions.
Stewart’s delivery of the line, “I shall miss thee” is one of the most memorable pieces of theatre that has ever been performed, and the look given in return from Ariel as he moves slowly off the stage is one of such complete relief and gratitude, that as, for the first time Bleach’s shoulder’s relax, the audience can almost see the spirit flee, at last, it’s mortal constraints.
The stark landscape can be seen, along with the characterisations of both Ariel and Caliban, in this production, as projections of the darkness and bleakness that resides inside Prospero, especially inside this very human and venerable characterisation by Stewart, and this is emphasised by Bleach and John Light as Caliban, both as creatures so clearly “of the isle”, creatures imprisoned by Prospero, and to all intents and purposes beings “created” by Prospero himself into beings that suited his needs.
However, this setting, although refreshing due it’s difference to the majority of productions of The Tempest, is only really effective if the audience has a good understanding of the play as it is usual presented, therefore able to understand the irony and cynicism behind lines such as Gonzalo’s “How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!” as well as Ariel’s references to his “speedy” and “flighty” movement, as he moves as slow as a snail across the stage.
The ultimate drama of this production is undeniably in the scene before the interval when Ariel emerges from a giant seal to deliver his judgement speech upon the Lords of Naples and Milan. Bleach is masterful in this piece of drama, delivering a chilling speech and a horrifying punishment, and the sheer skill and vision behind the scene leaves the audience speechless.
However, it cannot be wondered that this scene also catalyses the main problem with this production – that it is perhaps different simply for the sake of being different at times, for what other reason could there be for Ariel to appear from the stomach of a dead seal?
But, these are petty concerns when measured against the skill of the directorial vision, and in particular to the skill of performance seen in Julian Bleach’s Ariel, bringing to life this ambiguous character that would leave even Shakespeare himself baffled, amazed, and in complete awe of this wonderful actor’s genius.