Monday, August 6, 2007
David Walliams plays a character in the television series Little Britain who walks through scenes making 'boock boock' noises ... clucking noises ... like a chicken. 'She' is one of the least sentimental characters in what is most certainly one of the bleakest of scenarios in the show ... and I have always been curious about the likely motivations for her inclusion - but no more so than this afternoon, when, on my way to the office with my takeaway coffee, a woman was walking along behind me making identical sounds. I glanced over my shoulder to see whether someone was taking the piss, as it were ... but no. Here, on Chapel Street (the very epicentre of Melbourne's Fashionista set and an almost impossibly ironic choice of location), was a woman as mad as the day is long, clucking away while strolling along the footpath.
Our little gaggle of pedestrians arrived at a set a traffic lights and a Little Red Walking Man. Others, perhaps as bemused and bewildered as I, moved out of her way. Some struck a pose of airhead aloofness ... others giggled. I looked on with a sanctimonious, self-rightedness pity. As the Little Red Walking Man was replaced by a Little Green Walking Man, we all stood completely still. Mad Woman glanced briefly from the middle-distance surrounding her to the ground and said "I hate going first". As I stepped from the footpath onto the road, Mad Woman followed and began to cluck away again.
My thought, as I wandered down a side-street toward my office was: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
Madness has always fascinated me. A large number of characters in plays I have written could quite easily, if not a little too lazily, be described as 'Mad'. I wrote a play many years ago called Memories, Melodies and Madness which enjoyed a world premiere in London (and great reviews!) and a season in Melbourne.
In the play, four dead women relive the final night of their lives and, guided and encouraged by a Virgil character, are given the opportunity to take responsibility for each of their roles in their shared tragedy and cross over to the Afterlife. One of the characters succeeds. The others do not ... and for them, their fate is to continue to re-live the final night until they are at peace with their responsibility for what occurred. As the character who was finally at peace began to cross-over into her new life, the play began again - playing identically to the way the performance had started. It was my interpretation of the Catholic 'Purgatory' ... the Christians' 'Hell'.
In London, it received rave reviews and played to packed houses. In Melbourne, at the height of an unseasonal Melbourne heatwave (such is my fucking luck!) we had to cancel several performances due to the fact that the old theatre we were performing in had no air-conditioning which resulted in a temperature in the back few rows of raked seating of close to 40°C.
At the conclusion of one performance, as the play 'began again', a woman in the audience suddenly realised what was happening. She let loose with an audible gasp of recognition and an almost painful whimper of realisation ... as the lights snapped to black. She sat in her seat in the theatre for almost half an hour after the performance had ended ... staring at the stage. The rest of the audience had long since left and she remained - at one with the work and her experience of it.
I have been incredibly fortunate to experience a number of moments like this throughout the many years I spent making theatre. There was the young man who, upon seeing my play The World ... According to Timothy Cross promptly returned to another performance with his Mum, having gone home and 'come out' to her. He brought his Mum to see my play because he believed that the experience of it would be something that would inform her understanding of who her son was ... and what he was going through.
At some point in the not too distant past, something else came to mean something more to me than the collection of these experiences I was proudly gathering to keep my heart and soul fed and at peace.
I wish I knew what it was.