Sunday, June 17, 2012

Waiting for Mr. Gatz

I went to see Gatz on Friday.  For those who don't know, that meant that almost all of Friday was given over to the task - the show is more than 8 hours long (including a dinner interval).  For me, that's actually a bonus.  I've always been a fan of the massively long production: loved directing The Ring for the ENO, with the awareness that the rhythm of the show would be so very different from the quick hit, advert and tweet-length attention span we are normally expected to meet.  I love the meditational, dream-like quality of the lengthy theatre experience.  I love the way it changes the relationship between the performers and the public: I remember Tony Guilfoyle talking about performing in The Dragon's Trilogy, and saying that you just can't work with adrenaline in the same way as for a two-hour show.  It's a more mature process, somehow.

Andrew Haydon has done the honours on Gatz for the blogosphere with his insightful essay - so I'm not going to write about the whole show here, except to say that Andrew is right, and that the show is quite brilliant.   But I would just like to think a bit more about one character - Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz.  As Andrew puts it, "even Gatz's father, a tiny walk-on part, gets a whole actor to himself", and his slightly surprised tone is eminently justified.  By the third interval, I'd had plenty of time to peruse the programme, and I knew that, with only another hour and a half to go, in what is in many ways an ensemble production, one of the actors had yet to appear.  I also knew, from his programme photo, that this was the eldest actor in the company by some considerable way, and that he stated with pride that he  had "played the role of Henry C Gatz since 2005".

The play is called Gatz, rather than The Great Gatsby.  Like the dingy office setting and the deliberate metatheatricality of the whole undertaking, the change of title foregrounds the fact that everything about Jay Gatsby - certainly his wealth, his poise, and, as it turns out, even his name - is a fiction.  When Nick Carraway addresses Henry as "Mr Gatsby", he is told "Gatz is my name".  So, in a way, it is Henry who is the title character.  He finally arrives on stage seven hours into the production. Has any actor, let alone one in a title role, ever made a first entrance so far into a performance before?  Not even Godot can really match this.  And, in a way, Mr Gatz is rather like Godot.  Coming so late to the stage, he seems like a deus ex machina, particularly as he arrives not from the framing world of the office but from the auditorium - perhaps implying that the world from which the audience comes might yet throw Nick some kind of lifeline, that somebody might meet his forlorn desire to give Gatsby, in his solitary death, some element of justifiable mourning.  But, like Godot, Mr Gatz is a disappointment.  Very early in the book, Gatsby has told Nick that his family are "all dead now", so we already know that the old man was not somebody his son wished to put on show.  And this makes it even more pathetic that he should continue to hold such pride in Gatsby's wealth, that he should show Nick the evidence of Jay's youthful American dreaming, that he should blame the absence of mourners at the funeral on the weather.  It seems to me absolutely right for the Elevator Repair Service to give this "tiny walk-on part... a whole actor to himself."  His appearance, aged, dignified but deluded, at the end of the marathon, emphasises that here is yet another character outside the circle of charm.

In the programme, there's a quotation from the critic George Garrett, saying the characters in The Great Gatsby are "one and all outsiders".  I agree - but I would go further.  What the arrival of Mr Gatz seems to me to say is that everybody is an outsider, even the Father, perhaps especially him.  That there is no charmed circle.  That the American dream, the capitalist myth, the chimera of wealth, and anything we might want to call a Heaven, is by its very nature unattainable.  That the modern condition, which Fitzgerald so clearly foresaw, is one of endless and hopeless longing for the unattainable.

Huge thanks to the company and to LIFT for one of the most extraordinary productions I have ever been privileged to see.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Platform and the Panel

An incredibly busy week.  While Britain got its extended Bank Holiday, I suffered the interculturalist's perennial problem that our international partners don't observe the same days off, and headed over to Brussels for the Platform's annual forum.  Actually, I was very pleased indeed to be there, as it was a particularly rich event this year.  I'm the official rapporteur for the Platform, so I'll be writing the whole thing up in detail, and linking to the online version - but just to whet the appetite a bit, here are a couple of highlights:

Jouetta van der Ploeg from City Museum Zoetermeer spoke about some extraordinary projects she is undertaking to link the museum to diverse local communities in this Netherlands new town.  Being a new town, the history is contained less in the preservation of objects, and more in the collection of migration stories.  A real way to give a sense of belonging.

Dusica Parezanovic from Cultural Center REX in Serbia spoke about some of her intercultural mapping projects, including an amazing one starting from the work of artist Zoran Todorovič, whose piece Cigani i psi involved attaching minuscule video cameras to the necks of a stray dog and a Roma child.  Watching from the gallery, you could only see how they were being treated - and it was impossible to tell which was which.

Eli Borchgrevink from TrAP in Norway talked about her project Viewing Palestine 2011, which gathered  thirty Palestinian artists and thinkers from a broad range of disciplines in Oslo - allowing people who are not able to meet in their own homeland to gather and exchange practice and ideas.

I whizzed back from this packed couple of days to take part in a panel at Rose Bruford on Wednesday night.  This was the start of a new research project about the role of the director in 21st century theatre, with a keynote by Richard Eyre, and a panel including James Dacre, Sarah Esdaile, Ian Rickson, Kristine Landon-Smith, Stephen Unwin, Simon Usher, and Natalie Wilson (quite a line-up).  Given that the event was called Re-naming the director, I has expected it might be concerned with new developments in the art of directing, and new ideas about the director's role both as artist and activist.  Strangely, only Kristine and I seemed to think in those terms, and I suspect that's to do with the fact that we both created our companies, and we both work with cultural diversity.  Dialogues with difference force you to think outside the box.  For most people, directing is still a craft - an interpretative role, serving a writer who is the "real" artist.  I refute that model - a director is an artist, as is an actor or a designer.  We have our own creativity and our own responsibility in terms of the work we send into the public space.  So - Kristine and I are planning a lunch.....

Enough time to welcome our new intern from Hong Kong Baptist University, Jennie Wah, and to go to the launch of Jay Griffiths' new book, A Love Letter from a Stray Moon at Sarah Dunant's house.  Jay is a very dear friend from way back, and it's always a joy to connect with her, and with other kindred spirits like Sarah.  The new book is a publishing experiment for Penguin, available only in e-book form.  And you can get it for a mere £1.99 here.