Review: Moth, The Joy of Text ~ theatre notes

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Moth, The Joy of Text

Last Wednesday, Lally Katz's A Golem Story and Robert Reid's The Joy of Text premiered at the Malthouse and the MTC. The same week, the Malthouse opened its remount of Declan Greene's 2010 hit, Moth. Meanwhile at the MTC, Joanna Murray-Smith's The Gift is running at the MTC's Sumner Theatre, and tonight Ian Wilding's new play The Water Carriers opens at the Lawler Studio. At the moment, Melbourne's main stage theatres are exclusively devoted to new Australian work.

Has this ever happened before? If it has, I missed it. For this reason, and not without a certain astonishment, it's worth sticking a small, patriotic and ironically tasteful flag in June 2011 and admiring the view from the hill. Well done, MTC and Malthouse: despite all the commercial wisdoms that mitigate against producing contemporary Australian plays, together you've curated a mini-showcase of new writing, flung a spotlight on it, and put it out there.

Last week's openings are noteworthy: they're all well worth seeing, and they're all very different from one another. (Discussion of A Golem Story will follow in a separate post, because it started going on, and on...) Katz, Reid and Greene all grew up in Melbourne's independent theatre scene: Katz developed most of her early work with Chris Kohn and Stuck Pigs Squealing, while Reid had, and Greene has, their own companies, respectively Theatre in Decay and Sisters Grimm.

It's a point worth noting: these playwrights learned how to do it just as Shakespeare did, by writing plays, finding collaborators and putting them on. They put them on in carparks (and sometimes in cars), in tiny alternative venues, under the umbrella perhaps of institutions such as Theatre Works or the Melbourne Fringe or the Store Room, sometimes with money, often with no funding at all. They didn't ask permission, and they created audiences.

Moth, a co-production by Malthouse and Arena Theatre, is unquestionably the pick of the bunch. This is exquisite theatre: in my view one of the most accomplished new plays of the past few years, here given a superbly restrained and devastatingly powerful production by Chris Kohn. This is a remount of last year's sell-out production, and what I said the first time round still holds: it's a play notable for its needle-sharp accuracy, its sure theatricality and its unforgiving emotional honesty.

Its conceit - a retelling by two friends, Claryssa (Sarah Ogden) and Sebastian (Thomas Conroy) of a traumatic incidence of schoolyard persecution and subsequent breakdown - is both ingenious and cleverly maintained, but its heart-cracking power exists in our understanding that this retelling is impossible: reality, it tells us, is different from what we hope.

As enactment, Moth has a sense of the un-illusioned redemption Allen Ginsberg grasps in Kaddish, his great poem of mourning for his mentally ill mother Naomi: "Work of the merciful Lord of poetry, / that causes the broken grass to be green, or the rock to break in grass - the Sun to be constant to Earth - sun of all sunflowers and days on bright iron bridges..." Suspended in the force of this impossible longing, the tragedy of madness - in all its horror, obscene comedy and abjection - opens as an unhealed wound. The truth of that unhealedness is the only redemption there is: it's the ferocity of the desire that things be otherwise that most tellingly reveals its pain.

This production demonstrates the value of remounting work. The premiere was hugely impressive: this time round, with a new cast member replacing Dylan Young, I was struck by the beautiful detailing of Ogden and Conroy's performances: every moment thought through and articulated, every gesture accurate. Each aspect of the design - Jethro Woodward's soundscape, Jonathan Oxlade's set, Rachel Burke's lighting - unobstrusively strokes in texture and contrast. I don't remember the script well enough to know how it's changed, but its fragmentations seemed sharper to me, the comedy more telling, the action more lucid. Small, but perfectly formed.

The Joy of Text, on at the Fairfax, is another kettle of sardines altogether. Robert Reid has clearly considered a major problem of contemporary art: how do you deal with complex ideas and simultaneously find a wide audience? "It is not enough to simply preach to the converted," he says in a program note. "If it is not kept open and accessible to us all, cultural discussion risks becoming obsessively self-referential and irrelevant to all but a narrow band of self-elected cultural elites." Quite.

Reid's solution is to take a popular generic form and remodel it to his own ends: in this case, farce. The Joy of Text is a satire on language and authority, and examines how language, far from being a vehicle for truth, creates its own destabilising realities. Here traditional reason and authority grapple with irrationality and inauthenticity. It's no accident that it's set in a school, where authority and anarchy regularly meet and attempt to discipline each other: nor that the play's title spins off a famous 1970s sex manual.

From its opening scene, in which the acting head master Steve (Peter Houghton) and English teacher Diane (Louise Silverson) have an argument about syntax, it's clear that we are in a parallel reality close to, but by no mean identical with, our own. For one thing, people speak in perfect sentences, like Samuel Johnson. I've never been a teacher, but somehow I doubt that most of the staff-room conversation concerns itself with the finer points of grammar, debating favourite authorities. They're mighty creaky ones too - Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) and Strunk and White's Elements of Style (1918) - which place the arguing teachers in a fustian, outmoded matrix of authority, of certainty shored up by textual jurisdiction about correct modes of behaviour.

This mode of authority meets its nemesis in the persons of a bright student, Danny (James Bell), and an ambitious young teacher, Ami (Helen Christinson), both of whom represent different models of inauthenticity. Danny appears first in an argument with Ami, where he is heatedly accusing her of humiliating him in front of the class. Asked to deliver an essay on satire, his assignment consists of a copy-and-paste of the Wikipedia entry on Jonathan Swift. Ami is not impressed by his argument that his essay is a performance of satire itself ("We are all Lilliputians!) and Danny retires, hurt and vengeful.

Meanwhile, Ami's identity is called into question when Diane decides to put The Illusion of Consent - a book written by a 16-year-old schoolgirl which details her alleged affair with a teacher - on the school syllabus. Ami is fiercely against it, claiming that the book is a fiction by a girl seeking attention, and pointing out that the publication of the book led to the teacher's suicide. When Steve casually gives the book to Danny to read, Danny (in an unlikely feat of textual scholarship) deduces that the book's author is Ami herself. And then, pursuing his performative method of learning, he re-enacts scenes from the book with various teachers, spreading chaos and confusion.

Farce, the most self-conscious of theatrical modes, is in fact the perfect form for a satire of language - it is all about confused identity, self-destructing authority and sexual shenanigans. Joe Orton took farce to a logical conclusion, becoming, as the critic CW Bigsby said, a "crucial embodiment of the post modernist impulse": "by means of farce he gives expression to the conviction of a dislocated self, of a reified experience, of a brittle and contingent language". Here Reid takes that post modernist impulse and makes it explicit.

Marx's famous dictum about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce", is not wholly inappropriate here: the first time the teacher shoots himself, the second time the teachers, as a result of the first event, find themselves lost in a maze of bureacracy, definitions of "appropriate behaviour" and uncertainty.

Reid's play is an often brilliant, and very funny, enactment of all these ideas: the first act steps through a minefield of uncertainty with a deft theatrical wit. The second act, in which all these energies reach their various climaxes, collides with an impulse hostile to the suspensions of farce and somehow collapses under its own weight.

Behind this is a desire that these characters be relatable, that we identify with them and feel sympathy with them: a laudable desire for human emotion to emerge from these alienating language games. Characters in farce provoke interest and hilarity for different reasons: because they are absurd, because the unremitting logic of their behaviour inexorably leads them into chaos. Act Two changes gear into something more akin to naturalism (with the odd reference to tragedy), and Reid hasn't quite managed the marriage of these opposing impulses in his text or, I suspect, in his ideas. It feels grafted in, rather than an evolution from the premises of the first act.

For all that, it's a very enjoyable production. Aidan Fennessy's direction straddles, somewhat uncomfortably, the contradictions of the text, approaching it primarily as farce; the actors deal with the stage business very well, but then are left with the difficulty of creating empathic characters out of these brittle theatrical constructions. Houghton as the morose acting head master, both panic stricken by his temporary authority and longing for its status, manages this best of all the cast, although I liked Louise Siversen's astringent Diane. And Andrew Bailey's multilevel institutional set places the action gloriously in a mundane, utterly recognisable present which, fascinatingly, works best of all in the dislocations of the first act.

Pictures: top: Sarah Ogden and Dylan Young in Moth; bottom, James Bell and Peter Houghton in Joy of Text. Photo: Jeff Busby

Moth, by Declan Greene, directed by Chris Kohn. Designed by Jonathan Oxlade, lighting design by Rachel Burke, video design by Domenico Bartolo, composition and sound design Jethro Woodward. With Thomas Conroy and Sarah Ogden. Malthouse Theatre and Arena Theatre Company, Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse, until June 25.

The Joy of Text by Robert Reid, directed by Aidan Fennessy. Sets and costumes by Andrew Bailey, lighting design by Matt Scott, composition by David Franzke. With James Bell, Helen Christinson, Peter Houghton and Louise Siversen. Melbourne Theatre Company @ the Fairfax Studio, until July 23.


Anonymous said...

It's Siversen.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks anon (at least I got it right once). I'm beginning to think I should make a pre-emptive note before all blog posts, apologising for all minor typos, misspellings and so on. A copyeditor would be a fine thing.

Abe Pogos said...

Caught Moth last week. Agree with your review. Writing and production were the best thing I've seen in a while.

Cameron Woodhead said...

I disagree strongly with most of your review of The Joy of Text, but let's start here:

"From its opening scene, in which the acting head master Steve (Peter Houghton) and English teacher Diane (Louise Silverson) have an argument about syntax, it's clear that we are in a parallel reality close to, but by no mean identical with, our own. For one thing, people speak in perfect sentences, like Samuel Johnson. I've never been a teacher, but somehow I doubt that most of the staff-room conversation concerns itself with the finer points of grammar, debating favourite authorities. They're mighty creaky ones too - Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) and Strunk and White's Elements of Style (1918) - which place the arguing teachers in a fustian, outmoded matrix of authority, of certainty shored up by textual jurisdiction about correct modes of behaviour."

Huh? Strunk and Fowler are still argued about (just look at Neandellus' blog), and perhaps even in staff rooms. Fowler is consistently updated, with a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach taken by the third edition in 1996.

Creaky? Fustian? Have you actually read Fowler? The teachers are talking about split infinitives, if I recall correctly.

Fowler's passage on them is quite famous:

"The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; and (5) those who know and distinguish. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are happy folk, to be envied…"

Bit of a wacky funster, the old Fowler.

But that is the least of my problems with this review ...

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Cameron - I think you've kind of missed my point, which is that the dialogue is highly self-reflexive, artificial language, and meant to be recognised as such. As for the style books, it's self evident in that scene that these teachers - or at least Diane - are posing "correct" English against the anarchies of text-speak and so on. I didn't say that the style books themselves were fustian and outmoded - I said that they represented fustian and outmoded models of textual authority. And that these authorities are then hit, during the play, with the full force of postmodernity.

raili said...

I had to look up fustian.

Cameron Woodhead said...

No I haven't missed your point. I disagree with it, and I think your view ignores much evidence to the contrary in the play itself.

To me, the intellectual banter isn't unduly stylised. The teachers don't, to use Rider Haggard's phrase, "talk like a character in a novel". They're tertiary-educated people debasing their intellect by exchanging jaded barbs to pass the time. Examples of this litter the blogosphere, and are so rare on our stages I think you're misreading the dialogue as 'artificial'.

You read the play as a battle of some vaguely defined "outmoded model of textual authority" versus the "full force of postmodernity". That's not what this play is about at all.

What impresses me most about The Joy of Text is that it understands it is precisely such a battle that is 'artificial'.

In this production, 'postmodernity' is traced back to its roots in the underside of Enlightenment rationalism. Think of the poster of Tristram Shandy on the wall, or the frequent reference to Jonathan Swift.

The Age of Reason provided reason's most glorious critiques. In Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne deconstructed most conventions of the novel before they had even coalesced, much as Hamlet did with Jacobean revenge tragedy. And Swift's savage irony would still give South Park a run for its money.

If the play shows us anything, it's that various modes and theories of linguistic authority are not fundamentally antagonistic, but complementary. They're tools, and their effects depend on the wisdom of those employing them.

Given that, I think Reid knows exactly what he's doing. His ideas aren't 'confused' at all. And honestly, I'm kind of agog that you regard the play primarily as farce, rather than satire. There is no mercy in farce, and The Joy of Text, by moving from Juvenalian to Horatian satire, achieves an unstrained plea for that quality in an increasingly merciless world. To me, that's way more important than all the intellectual hijinks, brilliant though they are.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Raili - fustian is one of those glorious words that sounds like what it means.

Hi Cameron - I'm kind of amazed that you'd take the opening scenes as naturalistic. But hey.

I didn't precisely miss the Swift/Sterne references. They too are writers who delight in the artifice of written language. Swift's Tale of a Tub is (if you can be bothered to negotiate the arcane references) one of the funniest piss-takes of written discourse ever. It's all about never getting to the point, and when it threatens to, the whole thing collapses into ellipses. Punctuation as king of unmeaning! Surely referencing those writers suggests an emphasis on self-conscious artifice rather than otherwise?

I'd read the argument of the play as more the panicked shoring up of authority (Diane gets to be headmistress, and order is restored) in the face of everything that threatens it, rather than a plea for "mercy". Mercy from whom? To who? Satire isn't merciful: back in ancient times, the word was used to mean "curse": satires were written to the gods to cause actual harm. And even its Horatian mode, the superior smile of the civilised man at human absurdity, isn't precisely about mercy...

Likewise, I suspect that where the first act of the play threatens to expose various authorities, it ends up paying obeisance instead. In this sense (order being restored) it works as a classical comedy. Nothing wrong with that, but I'd say the questions it introduces - about authenticity, hoaxing etc - are simply cancelled out.

The biggest problem in it is the push for a naturalistic emotional authenticity: this is where, for me, its ideas get confused. Not that such a shift isn't possible: of course it can be done, although I suspect it's very difficult. But for me, this shift is where the play lost its energy. I thought it might have been more fun if Reid had pushed his ideas to their logical conclusions. Eg: Reid references hoaxes like Ern Malley and Demidenko: Malley is, to say the least, complicated, in that a fictional poet invented to take the piss out of modernist inventiveness ends up being one of our best modernist poets. The Demidenko case showed what happens when that desire for "authenticity" trumps every other consideration in a fictional text: the writer chosen for her authentic experience ends up exposed as the biggest fraud of the lot. (Remember that we're speaking about works of art, not primary realities here - on stage we're watching fictional characters: so we have fictional characters talking about fictional characters, and this is foregrounded in the first act.) When the play shifts back to more conventional naturalistic expectations, exploring the fall-out (this is where Garner comes in) it's as if those questions are simply dissolved, rather than resolved or opened out. As if we can just ignore those destablising questions about subjectivity and authority and authenticity and go back to our original assumptions, relieved that the world is just as we thought it was. Excuse the royal "we".

To my mind, it promised to be a lot more interesting than that. As a work, it felt to me incompletely integrated, as if extrinsic demands took the upper hand over the ideas animating the play. All of which is meant, in fact, in the most respectful way possible: I admire what Reid has achieved here, even if I felt it didn't quite work.

Cameron Woodhead said...

I'm not sure you've addressed or even understood my point.

I didn't say the opening scenes were naturalistic. Authentic? Absolutely. Emotional authenticity is by no means a purely naturalistic phenomenon. Naturalism has no monopoly on it, which is what the best writers in the postmodern tradition try to show.

Your reading of the play falls into the trap of reifying categories like 'naturalism', 'satire', 'farce', and then finding fault with the play for failing to live up to these ideal, and quite outdated, rubrics - rather than showing how these ideas inform and enrich each other, and spliced together in a postmodern way, give us a sense of how we might be human in dark times.

Your brief comments on the direction and performances bear this out. (As an aside, I do long for you to talk more about these aspects of theatre, rather than subsuming them into the 'text'. I know Mr. Keene needs to keep actors and directors on side if his plays are to be performed, but your best reviews tend to concentrate on performance, and its effect on your mind.)

TJOT is satire that won't let us, as Reid puts it, "forget the people behind the words". As for mercy, I know it isn't your strong suit, but it's a blindingly obvious force in the play. (Danny shows mercy to Ami by refusing to expose her, Diane likewise, and also to Danny, when she imparts a crucial insight by quoting Clytemnestra's: "Let us not be bloody now".)

There is a very real sense in which the tying up of every loose end does pander to our expectations. But it appears to do so resentfully. It screams "the MTC made me do it". Were I directing TJOT, I'd make the resentment explicit, with the last scenes played not 'naturalistically', but in a swift, begrudging way that forces a consciousness of our expectations as debased by cliche.

Alison Croggon said...

Cameron: you think the problems you discerned in the show were in the production. I, on the other hand, trace the problems I saw in the production to unresolved and/or unacknowledged contradictions in the ideas in the play itself. I think that the desire to show the "human" (if you like) stumbles over the very problems the play foregrounds, which are precisely those of authenticity and authority, the problems of humanism itself. I suspect that the problem of "being human" might have been better illuminated if these ideas hadn't been falsely resolved. The difficulty there seems to be in imagining this possibility is exactly what I meant in my earlier piece on the narrowness of the range of ideas we are exposed to in our theatre.

As for the reification of categories: the play, quite consciously, does this itself: it plays with all these categories, and quite explicitly discusses them. Which is why I was discussing the implications of its doing so. Form is a language too.

I have not had the privilege of reading the play itself. But I do think that I can be forgiven for devoting a fair bit of thinking about the problematics of text in discussing a play that is, after all, called The Joy of Text. Yes, of course I could have written more about performance. In this case, I was more interested in something else.

And really. This. "I know Mr. Keene needs to keep actors and directors on side if his plays are to be performed..." I thought we had got past your sudden derailings of disagreement into irrelevant ad hominems. I can say quite categorically that Mr Keene has never in his life kept directors or actors "on side" in order to "get his plays performed". He has rather more respect for his own work - and for those he works with - than that. And the suggestion that such a design might have anything to do with anything I may or may not say is not only wrong, but frankly offensive.

Cameron Woodhead said...

Quite. I'm not sure we're quite even in the ad hominem stakes. (You've had a few years on me there. Plus you tweet.) But that's irrelevant. The remark was uncalled for. I apologise.

I do wonder if your appreciation of the text might be different if you'd read DFW, Eugenides, Eggers, and other American postmoderns from the 90s and 2000s, who turn metafictional shenanigans toward the human with terrific success. I'm pretty sure Rob Reid has.

Our disagreement also brings out those unknowables in theatre reviewing. Most of the time, we see only the final product, and diagnosing failure - is it the text, the performances, the direction? - is always a bit speculative. Denied an accurate case history from the rehearsal room, we can only see the symptoms onstage.

You do have a tendency to blame the writing, though - and more often than not I agree with you. Still, it seems a bit weird to do so with such an explosion of talented Australian drama making it to our main stages simultaneously.

Matthew said...

"[I]t seems a bit weird to [blame the writing] with such an explosion of talented Australian drama making it to our main stages simultaneously." — Cameron Woodhead

"As far as the local industry's concerned, I freely admit that I am much more protective and gentle towards the Australian film industry." — Margaret Pomeranz

It doesn't make sense to assume that because there are numerous productions of Australian work being stage simultaneously that those works are equally well-written. To suggest that they are, or that one shouldn't point out that they're not, on the grounds that it's important to see new Australian work on stage, is Pomeranz-level screwy.

And what if one has read David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers and still feel that the problem lies with the text?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Cameron - apology accepted, tho I think you're well ahead on the ad hominems.

And yes, we're both speculating. I wasn't arguing, btw, that metafiction is intrinsically anti-human, though there's a solid argument that it's anti-humanist, from Rabelais on. Yes, I'm more familiar with European metafictional novels than the American branch; I'd say writers like Sebald or Desbordes particularly investigate the "human". Although what writer doesn't? But plays are different from novels, with different genealogies of form.

"You do have a tendency to blame the writing, though". ? Perhaps my uninhibitedly enthusiastic response to Moth above might suggest otherwise... I call it as I see it, Cameron. As I'm sure you do, too.

Cameron Woodhead said...


We both call it as we see it. I was, initially, trying to tease out your argument about the writing in this particular play. Evidence for some of your assertions seems shaky to me. I'm going to give the script a read this week. As for ad hominems, of course I think you're ahead. But I've lost count, and I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate me revisiting some of the worst ones you've committed. One thing I do know - I'm winning in the apology stakes.

We actually get along well IRL, so let's try and emulate that in the rudesville of the internet.


"It doesn't make sense to assume that because there are numerous productions of Australian work being stage simultaneously that those works are equally well-written. To suggest that they are, or that one shouldn't point out that they're not, on the grounds that it's important to see new Australian work on stage, is Pomeranz-level screwy."

I didn't suggest that current Australian plays are equally well written. If you've been reading my reviews, you'd know that. Nor do I have a bias in favour of Australian work, as Pomeranz does. Quite a few of my recent reviews of Australian theatre have been withering. Even so, it's the main-stage direction of new Australian work that worries me more than the writing, and I think a serious critique of the culture behind those failings is in order. I'm writing one soon.

Geoffrey said...

If I may just do the blog equivalent of farting in the lift: I don't visit Theatrenotes to read about what you think of Alison, Cameron. I actually come here to find out what Alison thinks of the work at hand.

Instead of having to apologise so often (and odd admission if I do say so), maybe you should stop crashing into the room, wildly waving your library card around in the air so often and stay on topic – which you are actually perfectly entitled to do and are often very good at.

It may also be pertinent for me to add that in this environment, you're not the only one at the party – and your cheap shot at Daniel Keene made me gag.

James said...

So Alison is arguing for Fowler and Cameron for Strunk?

Alison Croggon said...

Personally, I'm a fan of Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Especially the old editions, which are full of wonderful inaccuracies.

Cameron Woodhead said...


FYI. The apology count is Cameron 2, Alison 0.

Most of my contribution in this thread has been directed to what Alison thinks of the work at hand (which I'm interested in), what I think of it, and exploring how and why our opinions differ. Developing and refining opinion is, ideally, what the comments section is for. I can’t speak for Alison, but I was exercised and stimulated by the discussion.

Yes, I made one potentially gag-worthy remark. I apologised. Whether it derails the convo at this point is up to the participants.

So how ironic that your post, unlike mine, is inaccurate flaming that has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WORK AT HAND. You say you “don't visit Theatrenotes to read about what [I] think of Alison”? Well I’m pretty sure no one visits Theatrenotes to read what you think of me. If you can’t see the grotesque hypocrisy in your post, you’ve just lost a large chunk of the respect I had for you.


I’m not arguing for Strunk or Fowler. Both prescriptive and descriptive modes can be useful, in grammar as much as criticism. Though I’ll confess, during the play, a light went on in my brain when Diane said: “You should know what the rules are before you break them.”

James said...

Sorry for being brief. What I meant by my comment was to convey how much enjoyment I was getting by seeing Alison and Cameron re-enact the first scenes of The Joy of Text in this critique.

A kind of critique imitating art imitating something we can't agree on.

It's a lot of fun.

Personally I love the blog and the comments. One almost can't exist without the other.


Alison Croggon said...

Cameron, the best way not to derail an argument is to stop following the will o'the wisp of resentment into the slough of despond and outrageous boredom. Which is where inevitably it ends.

And yes, I hugely enjoy a good argument.

Cameron Woodhead said...

Me too. Arguing with you is often great fun, and enriches my experience of the art. I usually learn something, and there's really no substitute for it, in terms of honing critical skills. Naturally, I wouldn't bother if I didn't respect your opinion.

It's unfortunate that I had to respond to Geoffrey's outrageous libel. (I apologised, you were gracious enough to accept it, and we went on talking about the play. I'm not sure what Geoffrey thought he was doing, but hey.)

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, it's no fun if you're not learning something. Are theatre critics naturally Socratic, I wonder? I mean, more than other kinds of critics. It might bleed through from the artform. (There's a whole argument about learning and teaching in The Joy of Text, too.)

Cameron Woodhead said...

Philosophy does bleed through the artform. George Hunka has an interesting piece on how they dovetail over at Superfluities. I'm not sure we can lay a claim to being especially Socratic, but I've always thought the best critics, the best teachers, the best philosophers, and indeed the best people, never really stop being students.

Alison Croggon said...

I was thinking more Socratic as in learning through argument. It's not an accident that the Greeks invented courts, philosophy and theatre at around the same time...

Cameron Woodhead said...

Speaking of courts and theatre, I just saw a play about Lionel Murphy at La Mama. I'll have to channel my inner Solon.
Plus my interview with Geoffrey Robertson QC is up, to coincide with Amnesty International's 50th. I wrote it for a student newspaper, so it's pretty bolshie.

Richard Pettifer said...

Wow everyone knows so much stuff that's awesome :)

I agree with you Alison - I enjoyed the play but there was some contradictions in it which nagged away at me.

I'm not sure whether to try and flesh these out because I'm not quite sure what bothered me, only that I felt like the thing didn't quite "line up" properly.

Perhaps it was a contradiction of naturalist drama vs. cultural argument - if these were the two primary driving forces of the play. There were times when they seemed at odds with each other, as one would be neatly abandoned for the progress of the other. This resulted in quite a few moments of "really?? I'm supposed to beleive that?????" not in a far-fetched way... more in a... way that was focused on delivering story and in doing so neglected character...? Maybe??

I am not sure if the resulting questions are worth asking. They are things like "Why does that kid care so much about what the others think of him at school when he's clearly a genius who has read Fowler etc". Or "If he knew she was the girl who had the affair from the book why hasn't he been acting cocky as hell for this entire scene???? Because if I knew something like that it would feel real powerful and I could lord it over my teacher and I totally would esp. if I was a cocky teenager who maybe wanted to root her."

I don't know... they are my attempts at articulating nagging doubts. And pointing them out probably results in, at best, niggly nit-picking conversations about tiny details. But I reckon there was something amiss here and it will keep nagging at me I think.

I'm actually not sure I care that much in the end anyway. This writing seemed very keen to say what it wanted to say, and everything was at the mercy of that. So maybe these little questions do not matter.

In which case, what was the message? I mean, it felt very clever but what was it actually about?? Satire?? Teacher/student relationships?? Felt like I was missing something - not clever enough 2 get it mayhaps :(

The lady next to me said she'd forget it in a couple of months, which is a shame because there is some beautiful work here (especially in the design which was HYPER!!)

Alison Croggon said...

Hi 4Coffins - well, there's no reason why a character on a stage needs to be in any way realistic. I guess the tension you felt was very similar to one I did - the clash between the characters being realistic and relatable, or being something else, maybe a bit Stoppardian, linguistic fictions which generate another order of reality.

I'm not sure there was a "message". Not that I really care for messages, anyway. But it certainly gave us plenty to talk about...

Richard Pettifer said...

I'm not sure I mean realistic as much as contradictory. e.g Superman is not a realistic character but the fantasy is unified and there's a set of rules that remain consistent. He hates Kryptonite, loves Lois, is kind of accidentally a hero and has all the psychological traits that go along with that. He doesn't suddenly love Kryptonite because its neccessary for the plot to take us to the scene where Lex Luthor and he fight over who gets to keep the Kryptonite.

My post above reveals my uncertainty about what I'm getting at... and I certainly do not mean to misuse Reid's work here.

I think what I mean is when working in naturalism do we not have to obey the rules that we set up, the agreements that have been made for the audience, in order to build an 'acceptable' world? In which case, I felt like there were agreements I made with this world that were betrayed later. (I think that's what I'm getting at.) This caused those 'hang on' moments I was describing above.

Hmm maybe not 'message' then. But I still think Reid was keen to say something, to make a statement. I don't know why I feel this, I suppose I'm trying to find a reason why the above occurred. I could not neccessarily discern a didactic message myself that I could put into words.

Sorry about these posts I come from a place of not knowing that seems to get more stupid every day :( more theory required

Anonymous said...

I check on this site now and again. I make an observation. You write with too much ego. Both of you. It begins about the work. It ends up being about you. And you're both guilty of it. Both guilty of indulging in it.

Alison Croggon said...

I make an observation too. It's impossible to write without a modicum of ego.

Me again said...

I went to see Joy of Text last night and very much enjoyed it. I also enjoy the back and forth discussion here, including all the heated narky bits!

I would love to spend a semester at uni dissecting, analysing and learning about all this play has to offer; some references I understood, some sounded familiar but I didn't completely 'get' - and lots went over my head. I very much wanted the author on stage so I could clap his genius. (I loved the acting of James Bell who played Danny so well - he reminded me of a couple of friends of my 17 1/2 yr old daughter - exagerated versions but still recognisable).

Alison Croggon said...

Delighted to hear that, Me again. (Me again?) It would certainly repay a close look!

And belatedly, 4Coffins, not knowing is a fruitful place. Never lose it.