Friday, April 20, 2007
Scraps of distraction: Part 7
The new end
The thing about about abuse of any kind - emotional, physical, psychological, verbal, sexual - is that it stiffles and retards growth and development. On both sides of the act. The act of critical review is essentially no different. Whether they shove their hand down your pants and express like - or dislike - for what they feel, they've still shoved their hand down your pants. In life, it can be many things: rude, pleasureable, invasive, arousing, invited, uninvited, unexpected and a catalyst for many many things.
In the Theatre, it's the same. Ultimately though, it depends entirely on whose hand it is and how much you enjoy it down there. And where it leads ... and how soon after the initial mystery of the exchange, the mutual respect and consideration is lost to selfishness and greed. Savagery. The primal instinct for conquest. The hunger and appetite of the abuser at the expense of the curious consent of the person who might have continued to let them get off on the privacy of their desire.
In reflection, the saddest aspect of this entire journey for me was that yes, I did care about what the reviewers in London had said. Too much? At 25 years old, with your hand down your own pants and on the edge of the rest of your life, just how are you expected to comprehend, let alone know how to maintain and sustain that magical thing called "perspective"? ... not to mention know how to measure - precisely - what is "too much" of anything? It's futile ... pointless ... not unlike trying to measure what is "too long". Admirable sentiments I am sure, but the power of Perspective (not unlike the power of Denial) is not something that belongs in the domain of the young and adventurous. They come later. Like Regret.
Melodrama is drama without truth. And truth is that rare and fleeting almost instinctive breath of a moment in the theatre that is utterly and entirely impossible to capture. But it does exist. It's just very, very difficult to manufacture. You find it ... sometimes where you least expect it. It will sometimes chose to reveal itself in the perfect measure of time and place. But more often than not, it will elude you ... as was the case with many, if not most, of the performances of Tunnels without end I sat through in London.
You strive for it but it constantly eludes you. And the times in the theatre where truth has revealed itself, even fleetingly, remain my most memorable. I understand that now. And I seek it in everything I do.
Ireland's Brian Friel is my Master. William Shakespeare is too ... some of the time. So is Christopher Marlowe - all of the time. Arthur Miller most certainly delved deeply and often for the truth, but the truth of his writing was ultimately sabotaged by the truth of his significance to the lives of others and the turbulent times in which he lived. You need to look harder to find it in his writing. But it is there, especially in All My Sons - a magnificent, monster of play. And Timebends, his utterly compelling autobiography. Alan Bennett betrays truth with circumstance and his finely pleated structure. His becomes a convenient truth and he makes me uneasy. He is the very Englishness of contemporary English dramatists. Right up there with Alan Aychbourn. Aychbourn's truth is entirely of his own making which, in my mind, is akin to admitting that you'll never expect or allow it to appear in the work ... that it shall remain forever ellusive. It's a dangerous claim to stake ... because Theatre without Truth - or at the very least the eternal hope for its appearance - is Dead Theatre.
Tom Stoppard, a writer to whom I would be compared in a London review, is far too clever to be obviously seen to be truth-spotting.
Because we imagine it has. Something this cleverly written and structured has to eventually reveal truth in one form or another.
I have tried many ways to deal with the what Alistair McCauley took from me. I have accepted - and resolved - my responsibility for it. I revisited the script, rewrote it, and staged a production of it in Melbourne which was fantastic. I learned. I developed. I changed. And I am grateful for the lessons.
Today I understand and accept that Alistair McCauley is - essentially - a thief. I often read his reviews (I read one today) and marvel at how he consistently uses the creative energy of others to write - essentially - about hate. And I still marvel at just how much hate he is truly - no, truth-fully - capable of. How bitter and miserable must he be, recognising how incapable he is of taking the kind of creative risks he is forced to endure in the dark with the less hate-filled. He mistakes fleeting Truth for wit, observation and cleverness. His. At least the blood of mine he spilled that day on The Green was bright red. Not black, toxic, poisoned, and oxygen-less - like his. I have gone on to make a great deal more theatre. He has, quite obviously, not gone on. I relish that fact.
Every act of critical review is like a kabob. There's onion, red capsicum, lamb, green capsicum, tomato and you. Having written an inestimable number of reviews since, I know a truth about McCauley - and myself - I wish more than anything I'd known on my knees on the grass in the middle of The Green all those years ago. Because everything that occured after it would have been different. I would have ensured that the responses to him were entirely different. I would not have allowed him to castrate me in the way I allowed him to then. I would not have allowed him to punish me for daring in quite the same way as I did then. I would, instead, have responded with the full strength and weight of my passion, and courage, and the sheer unbridled determination that had placed my magnificent attempt at his feet in the first place. All the saved-up-for way from Glen Waverley, Australia. In short, I would have cut off his fondling fingers - and the hand they were attached to.
His was a position of great privilege to that point in my life that we shared and I will hate - and I really mean Hate - him and his like forever for not deciding, instead, to find what there was to admire about my sprawling passionate ode to Fate and despair - as opposed to finding what there was to hate about both himself and me, as he gazed at his ugly and twisted reflection in the cracked mirror I was holding up to his face.
My solace, if you like, is to know that at the end of my life, I will at least have imagined what was possible. McCauley, and his like, will only be able to look back at how much they truly were beneath it ... and how, ultimately worthlessly, they instead, take anothers' creativity, passion and ability prisoner - captive in their own unenviable, lonely and creation-less cell of complete theatrical and literary insignificance.
They signify only The Reactionary my insightful and quite brilliant Mother dared to hope I would not become. I understand her fear of that happening for me in its entirety now: 'Where," she was asking "is the courage and originality in that?"
And it makes the act of making uncompromising theatre again in my life almost compulsory.
My journey through the memory of this life-altering experience abroad has been immensely painful. That much is probably obvious. What is perhaps not quite so obvious is the way I feel today, right now, about where the rest of my life will take me. And I will close this final chapter of a most remarkable reminiscence with this exchange which somehow, quite magically, The Universe delivered to me late last night.
It is an edited transcript from the ABC Radio's PM program in 2005 - and the interviewee, Michael Billington, is a reviewer for London's The Guardian newspaper.
MICHAEL BILLINGTON: I suppose what makes Pinter interesting as a writer and as a man, is that the plays themselves defy analysis. You can offer an interpretation, but you can never quite fully say what The Homecoming is about, what No Man's Land is about, what Landscape is about. I think that's partly what makes Pinter interesting and what links him with the great dramatists of the past – that there is a quality in his plays that is beyond rational explanation. And one of my colleagues ... I think brilliantly said, part of the pleasure of watching a Pinter play is not fully understanding what it is about.
Really, Mr Billington? Well touché.
And the "colleague" in question? Here, and I hope this will give you as great a thrilling and gut-busting laugh as it did me, is the unedited version:
MICHAEL BILLINGTON: ... And one of my colleagues, Alistair McCauley, I think brilliantly said, part of the pleasure of watching a Pinter play is not fully understanding what it is about.
If "brilliance" is defined by "not fully understanding" then I feel terribly sad and sorry for both you and your colleague. And terribly proud of myself and the literally hundreds of people who came to my play in London and loved and understood it - in spite of him.
Thank you, Masters of Nothing ... and fuck you!