Friday, 14 March 2014

On previewing 'The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland'

It’s a very weird thing, previewing a new show. Not as weird as The Twilight Zone or the Bermuda Triangle or the ghost I saw in the grounds of Dean Close School, Cheltenham in 1978. But pretty damn weird nonetheless. It is excruciating too. Take this morning, the morning of the third day of our run in Shoreditch Town Hall. I woke at 6, having gone to bed at 1, and immediately switched on my computer, with whom I’ve been sharing a small room in a small flat overlooking London Fields since 2010. I checked the news of course to see if there were any updates on the fate of flight MH370. The search has now moved to the Indian Ocean. Malaysian authorities are rejecting the US’s theory that the plane went on flying for four hours after it lost contact with the radars, and in a press conference the day before a relative of one of the missing threw a bottle of water at a Malaysian Airlines official. I read an article on the BBC website about some of the passengers. There was – or is (because, as a friend of one of the missing said, ‘miracles do happen’) - a team of illustrious Chinese calligraphers, one of them aged 79. There was a couple returning to their two young kids after a short beach holiday. I recalled a Sunday Times magazine feature from the 1970’s about the passengers on Turkish Airlines flight 981, which had crashed in a forest outside Paris (a farmer found six seats in a field with dead passengers strapped to them), killing all 346 people on board. I must have been in my early teens when I read the article, but nearly forty years later I can still remember that a male model had been amongst the dead. After that I googled ‘The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland review’ to see if any conscientious reviewer had posted one already (the previous night being press night - though why they're reviewing previews I'm not sure). There were none. Then I thought I should really get some sleep. I wasn’t tired though so I sent a friend request to Jake Orr, who we’d met the previous day after a photo shoot for the show, and who’s just starting as our Assistant Producer. As I was talking to him, or, more accurately, listening to my colleague David talking to him, I carelessly poured peppermint tea all down my shirt. Jake, who had a metallic adornment set at a rakish angle in one lobe, asked us how the photo shoot was for us. ‘We have to be wary of gurning,’ David said, ‘as the more obvious gurning shots will inevitably be the ones they publish.’ This is very true. I spent most of the shoot being determinedly po-faced, especially during the Finnish folk dance, standing there with my weight on one leg, attempting to protect the arthritic knee of the other one, and watching Woods leap-frog over Talbot and Paolini. The trouble is, I might end up looking over-solemn, a parody of deadpan (‘His features lend themselves to expressions of gloom’; ‘he out-Busters Buster Keaton’; ‘he sings comic songs with a face like a Lurgan spade,’ and so on). Well, we’ll have to see, won’t we, when the reviews with their accompanying photos come out. If they come out. And if we can find out if they’ve come out. Kate Bassett from The Times was there. Terrifying. She reviewed our two man Earnest in 2005 and wrote ‘They’re just not great actors…their only option is to play everything knowingly fifth-rate.’ Yes, very possibly true, but then we were (she didn’t get it, which was of course our fault) meant to be playing two knowingly fifth-rate actors who were putting on a production of Wilde’s play. Kate Bassett sat, according to my colleague David, in the front row, but, perhaps a little considerately, on the far right side. That was in the first half, before the interval. We swap the audience round at half time and I’ve no idea where she sat after that. The other very weird thing about press nights (well, perhaps not that weird) is that once you know the critics are in you start imagining them. I’ve no idea, for example, if the voluptuously committed Lyn Gardner from The Guardian was in, but because I’d been on the receiving end of her complaints in the past (she kept on picking up her very large notepad, scribbling in it, putting it down, picking it up again, her response quite clear from the expression on her face, so no need to read the review, really, and anyway reviews are not meant for the artists, are they, they're intended as some sort of guide for the public), but yes, because of all this I imagined she was in. She was in the front row, just three feet from my right elbow. She had her very large notepad with her and she absolutely hated everything I did. Also sitting on the domestic side of the play, but on the other side of the row Kate Bassett sat in, was Ian Shuttleworth, critic of the Financial Times. Except it wasn’t, was it? It was Tassos Stevens, with a bottle of beer. There was another man in the front row with a moustache and dyed black hair and I was convinced he was someone from The Telegraph whose name presently escapes me. There were also several bloggers. And Time Out, I think, was there. I mean I felt they were there. I could sort of smell them. It was, then, an audience made up of critics and Tassos Stevens and Jake Orr. At one point someone in the audience started talking in a loud voice. Not a whisper. David, playing my character’s therapist, stared at them as though they were mentally ill and in need of swift diagnosis and, very probably, anti-psychotic medication. I ignored them, convinced that although the voice was deep and manly, they’d only turn out to be Lyn Gardner. Somehow we made it to the end. We had changed the ending, and will probably change it again, several times. It currently has a Finnish finish: we exit doing a hunched dance, wait for the blackout, wait for, hopefully, applause, and then re-enter for our bows. Or rather, actually, not for bows, having aired our loathing of the latter the previous night. We’ve chosen to nod at the audience instead. We’re not bowing and saying ‘we’re so grateful to be serving you, and being given the chance to humbly offer up this little piece for your entertainment.’ We are nodding our heads (possibly bigger than all the imaginary critics’) and saying ‘Yes, we’ve spent two years making a piece of theatre and that was it. It’s meaningful, we think, we hope, so please go away and think about it.’ And then we bugger off, go for a drink in a Shoreditch pub that’s quiet (they don’t exist) and return to our homes, knowing we won’t get good night sleeps…And then, and then, and then…


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