The Peculiar Delight of Anxiety – a night at the theatre

Written on the train home after some Pale Ale and Beckett, I am sure errors abound…

Having spent a delightful afternoon with the material scientist Mark Miodownik and making Dr Seuss’s Oobleck out of cornflour, water and colouring, it seemed only right that I should continue the day by going to the Old Vic to watch a monologue by an anxious corpse in a peat bog.

My day began shouting at an inanimate object that offered no solace as I tried to book a train ticket (Apple or Microsoft , you will take the lead once you create a laptop that authentically appears to offer solace during online frustration). I wrote too little of my new book and then took my dad to a closed gallery, which didn’t work out well as it appears he would have preferred an open one (damn you House of Illustration and your fashionable ‘Closed Monday’ attitude).

Then I stuck my hands in Oobleck for a Radio 4 documentary and my own sheer joy. I am hoping to make a Dr Seuss story with Ubik too as I think the Seuss/Philip K Dick mash up is long overdue.

After a Vitriola podcast espousing the virtues of the new Wedding Present record, plus Haley Bonar, Warhaus, Teenage Fanclub and Sparks, I took Michael Legge but the gnarled hand and led him across the Thames to the Old Vic. I drank nothing before the play as my bladder is psychosomatic during intense plays.

I was anxious before the play began, not merely because of the monochrome shut eye projected before me in David Lynch light, but because I worry for the performer. I imagine them waiting for the stragglers, grimacing as they ponder on what might go wrong in the spotlight. I think I now spend longer worrying over the people I am about to watch than I do when I am at the side of the stage about to be watched.

The eye opens, goes from monochrome to colour and, with amplified breaths, zooms into the pupil and darkness.

The screen drops and here is a figure in the peat bog. The human is hampered by memories of its reality and distracted by thoughts of a lost hat. It is a disturbing vision with disturbing thoughts.
Before the play began, Michael told me he didn’t like Beckett audiences as he didn’t think they understood Beckett. Whether reality or staged absurdity or the staged absurdity of reality, I am never confident where the laugh should be. Now, next to the judgmental ear of Michael in seat S33, I was on even more precise tenterhooks than usual.I hope he’s not angry that I laughed at the line about the hat.

The image is so disturbing, the thoughts so fabulously intense that, much like Lisa Dwan’s previous Beckett trilogy, you can get lost in it all, uncertain if you abject concentration has actually led to you missing some meaning or semtence. Did you remember to concentrate on that last line or are you too beguiled by the image? Are you too intensely seeking meaning, looking so hard that you will miss it altogether?

Should I just be satisfied in that Rorschach test definition of Godot and see what comes out from my head without troubling myself with the idea that there is some right or wrong. It’s too late for Beckett to be cross with me now.

Some of the phrases and sentences are so magnificent, yet concise ,that you find yourself desperately trying to memorise them for your notebag of wit and erudition and so you fail to be aware of what is happening next, if there is a happening. What was that line about how taking your dying gasp breathes new life into you or the one about the figment of your existence? (Though I can’t recall the line, it reminded me of a beautiful image in Alan Moore’s Jerusalem where he takes us into the ghost world. Not only does it contain ghosts of the once living, dream figures that were excessively imagined during sleep have become forms too)

No’s Knife is separated into four monologues. As it is Autumn, people struggled and gulped down their coughs. In every blackout, there was a cough cacophony, people desperate to scratch their throat enough to ensure no shameful Uvula tickled outburst. (Michael reckons it was a recording of coughs, one or other of us is an idiot. Actually, both of us are, but that is separate to this).

The intensity of Lisa Dwan’s performance is dynamic and almost worrying. The rapid change of the accents and characters outwardly alive and all stemming from one inner monologue places us closely to being spectators in a bedlam. Well, hopefully we’re spectators… .We are relieved to know that we are in a bedlam of her own intended construction (aren’t we?).

She must speedily transform from the anxious humanity of the play to the curtain call actor. The face is still contorted under the spotlight. It is a relief to see a sudden skip as she goes into the wings.

No’s Knife only runs for two weeks, as long as you are not seeking a respite from your fears, or making if you are seeking solace in shared fears, you should go and see this.

The latest Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles podcasts are an interview with Alan Moore and another with Lisa Dwan, Next up, it’s Noel Fielding. The podcasts are HERE (and also include Mark Gatiss, Stewart Lee, Sarah Pascoe, AL Kennedy and many more)

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