Telling Stories

Written & Directed by Chris Goode. Cast Michael Fenton Stevenes, Kelda Holmes, Christian Roe, Gwyneth Stron, Cathy Tyson, Lawrence Werber

The other night, I got sucked into a general election coverage black hole. Sat in bed, clicking through article after article, eyes fixed wide open when I should have been asleep. I was – I am – terrified. Then, a day or so later, I read this by George Monbiot on the train, hands shaking a little with fury. So much – climate change, the housing crisis, extreme inequality – is fucked, and the media is worrying about what Ed Miliband looks like eating a sandwich.

Likewise, there’s been a lot written about election theatre in the last few weeks and months. And yes, there is a lot of exciting political theatre that’s been programmed ahead of the country going to the polls. But amidst all the uncertainty and spin and sly manoeuvring, what leave more of an impact are those reminders of who the outcome of today’s vote is really going to impact upon. It’s the theatre about people, as much as the theatre about politics, that I find lingering in my mind.

I’m proudly voting Green today (a privilege, I confess, of living in a Labour ultra safe seat and not having the agony of worrying about letting in the Tories by splitting the left-wing vote – fuck first past the post, by the way), but Owen Jones’s argument for supporting Labour – especially in marginal constituencies – is pretty persuasive on this point. As he puts it, there might not be a huge gap between Conservative and Labour, but a hell of a lot of people fall into that gap. Increasingly, it looks as though the coming days are going to be a scrappy, close-fought fight, and the real winners or losers won’t be those sat in Parliament, whatever side of the House they end up on.

Take the characters who populate Beyond Caring. Since Alexander Zeldin and his cast started working on the show a couple of years ago, zero-hours contracts have become a key election issue, but Beyond Caring isn’t really “issue theatre”. It’s just about people. Weary, ignored, cruel, tender, stubbornly hopeful. People making the best of a shitty situation, cleaning up – literally and metaphorically – the mess they’ve been landed in.

Three cleaners on zero-hours contracts work a relentless 14-day cleaning job, alongside disillusioned full-time worker Phil and needlessly cruel night-shift boss Ian, venting his frustration in small displays of power. Ultimately, though, they’re all people who have been let down, forgotten, left out of the “aspiration nation”. But none of this political commentary is explicit. Instead, the hyper-naturalistic texture of Zeldin’s production simply puts us in the same room as these people, watching as they lead their precarious, unremarkable lives. “Just pay attention,” the show seems to be saying. Just look.

A memory: I’m about to cross the road outside Euston Station when I notice a man appealing to passersby. They all ignore him. I walk over, awkward, asking if I can help. He needs money for somewhere to stay tonight but he feels as though he’s running out of options. I listen. He tells me his name. I tell him mine. I try to offer some feeble advice, but honestly I don’t really know what support systems – if any – there are for him to access in the short term. I have to leave, so I give him what little cash I have on me and tell him I hope he finds somewhere. It’s not enough.

I cry, quietly and inconspicuously, all the way to my destination. Guilt itches at me – why didn’t I stay for longer than those few minutes? why, so often when I’m walking somewhere in a hurry, don’t I stop at all? – but mostly I feel a sort of helpless anger. All the talk, all the policies, all the posturing, have suddenly become a sharp kick in the stomach.

But then I think about the inevitability of that moment dissolving into the texture of my day, slowly melting into all the other experiences and conversations and worries. I think about the luxury and privilege of forgetting. I think about how I’m already turning that encounter, that man’s life, into a narrative. I wonder if that makes me just as bad as those who ignored him.

And I think about the long, wounded howl of Men in the Cities.

Tone-wise, Stand is perhaps as far from Men in the Cities as Chris Goode’s practice gets. After I see the show at BAC, Hannah Nicklin suggests that it’s the latter’s gentle counterpart; they’re two different sides of the same coin.

Men in the Cities is angry. Exquisitely, excruciatingly angry. It’s the raw, bruised cry of rage that is sometimes the only response to the world we live in. Rip it all down and start again. The same energy that’s channelled towards destruction in Men in the Cities is directed into positive, life-affirming action in Stand, be that campaigning against climate change, fighting for animal rights, or simply raising children with the strong sense of justice that allows them to take a stand in turn. All of those who share their stories of standing up for something acknowledge all that is wrong with the world, but they continue nonetheless.

Although Stand is a collection of individual narratives, gathered from people in Oxford, I’m struck by how communal they all feel. None of these stories are about us, say the six people sat on stage. It was him, it was her, it was all of us. It feels apt to be sat listening to these stories of action and community in BAC’s Council Chamber, a room soaked in the history of its local people, in a building whose motto “Not For Me, Not For You, But For Us” has taken on new meaning in recent weeks.

Confronted with just how fucked up the world is, it’s easy to feel guilty or helpless or both. My conscience is constantly pricked by the need to do more, while my anger is deflated by the feeling of being too small to make a difference. Handing out a few leaflets for the Green Party, or signing a petition, or spending a couple of minutes talking to a homeless person on the streets – they all feel like miniature, cowardly acts, ways of soothing that itchy conscience without really doing very much. Even the much bigger, much braver acts described by some of the individuals in Stand are just tiny drops in a vast ocean.

But there is something, however small, in stories. Watching Stand with Hannah, it reminds me of a moment near the end of her show A Conversation With My Father, in which someone suggests that what she is doing – telling stories – is the real way to initiate change. It is, at the very least, one way. Stories are how we shape our lives and our place in the world, so if we tell those stories differently then maybe – just maybe – we’re somewhere on the way to acting differently.

And there’s something about who gets to tell their stories and whose stories are told for them – or not told at all. On the same day as seeing Beyond Caring for a second time, I go to an afternoon performance of Turning a Little Further, a show devised with local female carers as part of the Young Vic’s (brilliant, as far as I can tell) Two Boroughs project. Partly inspired by Happy Days, recently in the main house, it’s a shifting portrait of women up to their necks not in sand but in other demands and responsibilities that weigh just as heavy.

“We have not given anyone a voice,” insists the short programme note, “we have simply allowed those voices to be heard.” And that’s the sense you get from the piece, which is filled with this wonderful, poignant, ecstatic cacophony of voices. It’s also properly beautiful – all glitter and soft coloured light and flowing, joyful movement. At one captivating point, bodies shoal and move as one mesmerising mass under a low amber glow; at another, a swing becomes a simple symbol of freedom and play.

It’s difficult too. “I’m choking on my own heart,” says one woman – a line that sticks in my own throat. Often, the struggle of just navigating daily routine is painfully felt, as is the indignity of being swept aside by government and society alike. What’s also felt in the room, though, is the sheer joy of this space of creation and escape, a space that feels increasingly under threat. “This,” I want to shout, “this is why theatre matters.”

Together with Beyond Caring, it’s a sharp reminder of what’s at stake in the fight ahead of us – today, yes, but also in the days after that, and the days after that. So many of the women in Turning a Little Further talk about being invisible, about not being heard. I don’t want to be part of a society where those voices are left to fade away entirely.

Finally, because it’s the sort of day when I either have to be a bit idealistic or collapse into tears, I’ll be singing this in my head on the way to the polling station.

Photo: Richard Davenport.

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Destruction and Renewal

manuel-harlan

Originally written for Exeunt.

A cacophony of voices drowning each other out. A pulverised culture retelling its stories. An ear-splitting scream of sound. A beautiful howl of despair. A giant subterranean drain. A devastating downpour of blood. Oddly, sounds and images of destruction dominate a year that has been characterised – theatrically if not otherwise – by reinvigoration and renewal. Often the most thrilling theatre I’ve happened to experience has also been the bleakest in its take on where we are right now.

Pomona, with its stark diagnosis that “everything bad is real”, epitomises this strand of shows. Alistair McDowall’s Escher staircase of a play was exhilarating, it was intelligent, and it was pitch black in its outlook on the modern world. Sending a violent jolt through the Orange Tree Theatre, it dazzled with both its ambition and its swirling mind-fuck of a plot, tangling up fiction and reality in a way that was at once disorientating and unsettlingly familiar. Here was a dystopia of a distinctly uncanny flavour.

The dark undertones of Pomona echoed a mood that had already established its hold on the year’s theatre. In The Body of an American – an early highlight of my theatregoing year at the Gate – the devastation was found in faraway warzones and much closer to home. Alice Birch’s blistering Revolt. She said. Revolt again. ripped up both patriarchy and the rulebook, suggesting flawed and angry responses to a broken world. And two parts of the great “Chris Trilogy” (completed by Chris Thorpe’s knotty Confirmation), the beautifully furious Men in the Cities by Chris Goode and Chris Brett Bailey’s mind-blowing, eardrum-destroying This Is How We Die, offered two different but equally excoriating critiques of late capitalism.

Then there’s master of bleakness Beckett, whose swirling, cyclical monologue Not I – most famously performed by the late great Billie Whitelaw – was given a mesmerising (and astonishingly speedy) new rendition by Lisa Dwan at the Royal Court at the beginning of the year.

While much of the new work I saw in the last 12 months was unsurprisingly shadowed by dismal visions of the world, the attitude also stretched into some of the year’s best revivals. Ivo van Hove’s production of A View From The Bridge scratched decades of dust and school assignments off Arthur Miller’s 20th-century classic, transforming it into a muscle-clenchingly tense tragedy, Jan Versweyveld’s black and grey design matching the gloom of its dramatic atmosphere. Katie Mitchell’s version of The Cherry Orchard – paired with a scrape-your-jaw-off-the-floor gorgeous design by Vicki Mortimer – was exquisite in its quickening decay. And two Ibsen productions at the Barbican – Thomas Ostermeier’s An Enemy of the People and Simon Stone’s The Wild Duck – wrenched the playwright’s work devastatingly into the 21st-century.

Another of 2014′s great revivals was Our Town at the Almeida, in a US-imported production from David Cromer. It arrived billed as a bold reimagining, but much of what made it work was – apart from the stunning final reveal – determinedly ordinary. Thornton Wilder’s characters appeared to us as unremarkable yet remarkably real, making their everyday sufferings all the more heartbreaking. There was a similar sort of quality to Robert Holman’s Jonah and Otto, a play that made a quiet art out of conversation. Both productions gently asked us to pay attention.

Other shows demanded the attention of their audiences rather more forcefully. Dmitry Krymov’s Opus No 7, visiting the Barbican as part of this year’s LIFT, had me from the first of its giddying procession of images. The same director’s wonky take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream was perhaps not as beautiful to look at, but just as enchanting, capturing something of the strange alchemy of theatre. In the National Theatre’s newly reopened Dorfman (i.e. the theatre formerly known as the Cottesloe), meanwhile, glittering new musical Here Lies Love relentlessly swept me along with it even in its naffest moments. Most recently – and in spite of its flaws – the dazzling to look at Golem made me understand all the fuss around 1927′s wittily precise animation.

One of the aesthetic offspring of 1927 is Kill the Beast, a company who marry visual detail with grotesque narrative flair. This year their latest show, He Had Hairy Hands, had me roaring along twice to its tale of werewolves, cops and arse-kicking monster hunters, as well as offering hands down the best gag of the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s also up there grappling for most jofyul theatregoing experience of the year, in a close-fought tussle with Secret Theatre’s A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts. The latter just about snags the prize, stealing my heart over and over with its flailing hopefulness – and its joy-drenched rendition of “Proud Mary”.

A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts is also, in part, about how we tell stories. There were lots of stories about stories this year. Coincidentally running at the same time, Mr Burns at the Almeida imagined how our culture might be passed on after a future apocalypse, while Ellen McDougall’s production of Idomeneus playfully traced the same process of narration and mutation over previous centuries. The dangers of narrative appropriation were disturbingly outlined in Tim Crouch’s multi-layered, head-scratching Adler & Gibb; in Wot? No Fish!!, storytelling was a simple source of charm and love.

Along with all the theatre that filled me with joy, plenty that I saw this year also left me filled with tears. Spine‘s double-whammy of the personally and politically emotive forced those tears to spill over, as did James “the vacuum cleaner” Leadbitter’s overwhelmingly intimate Mental. After the small but exquisite experience of Greg Wohead’s headphone piece Hurtling, I walked the streets of Edinburgh with heart thumping and eyes stinging; ditto Hug, Verity Standen’s “immersive choral sound bath” (there’s really no better way to describe it than she does). Then there was Kim Noble’s brash but bruised You’re Not Alone, which took a long time to relinquish its haunting hold.

Elsewhere it was the lulz that stayed with me. That giant ballpond and the IRL memes in Teh Internet is Serious Business. The smart silliness of funny women Sh!t Theatre and Figs in Wigs, turning their humour to Big Pharma and online narcissism respectively. The funny-sad sequence of cheesy song lyrics in RashDash’s Oh, I Can’t Be Bothered. The sheer joy of watching Jamie Wood and Tom Lyall clown around with what appeared to be an alien haggis in Chris Goode’s remounted Longwave. Chris Thorpe and Jon Spooner being punk rockers in their pants in Am I Dead Yet? (the most funny-yet-thoughtful show you’re likely to see about kicking the bucket).

With the requisite predictability of the end-of-year round-up, no survey of 2014′s theatre can seem to get away without a mention of King Charles III. Mike Bartlett’s concept – a future history play in iambic pentameter – sounded like a potential disaster, but turned out to be a slice of genius. It was thoughtful, it was witty, and it was as much about our theatrical heritage as it was about the traditions of monarchy. And to top it all off, it was designed by the brilliant Tom Scutt, who once again came up with one of the designs of the year with his dizzying visual concept for the Nuffield Theatre’s excellent revival of A Number.

Now from the big to the small. I’m still unapologetically head over heels for one of the most intimate shows I saw this year: Andy Field and Ira Brand’s fragile, heart-fluttering put your sweet hand in mine. Seating its audience in almost uncomfortable proximity to one another and to the two performers, it gently prodded at closeness and distance and love in all its different forms. Just gorgeous.

Also small – in staging if not in ideas – was Barrel Organ’s debut show Nothing. This series of intertwined monologues, performed in a newly improvised order each night with no set or props, was just as bleak in its way as some of the year’s more explicitly dark offerings. For a confused 20-something, it also terrifyingly captured the anger, uncertainty and disconnection of a whole generation. It feels like one of the real discoveries of the year, as does Chewing the Fat, Selina Thompson’s glittery but difficult look at weight and body image.

After opening with destruction, I want to end on a slightly more hopeful note. For all the darkness and devastation, few pieces of theatre have stayed with me quite so insistently as Duncan Macmillan’s not-quite-monologue Every Brilliant Thing, which was indeed brilliant. For once, cliched claims of “it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you laugh” were entirely justified, as I giggled and sobbed – sometimes at the same time – throughout.

Quite how a show about suicidal depression can be so life-affirming I’m still trying to fathom. It probably has a lot to do with the irresistible warmth of performer Jonny Donahoe, without whom I suspect it wouldn’t be half as good. But it also plays, as many of the best shows of the year have done, to theatre’s strengths: the unpredictability of live performance, the thrill of proximity, the possibilities of all being together, now, in the same space. Here’s to more of the same in 2015.

Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Cracks in our hearts and heads

mental

I’m sitting on a cushion, knees drawn protectively to my chest, feet covered by the edges of a massive duvet. In a small room in a block of flats somewhere in Edinburgh, I am listening to James Leadbitter (aka artist-activist the vacuum cleaner) share his experiences of mental illness and activism, while medical assessments and police records flash up on a overhead projector. He talks about depression and anxiety. He talks about being suicidal. And I listen, arms curled around legs, biting the inside of my mouth, tears prickling at my eyes.

Ordinarily, I’m not particularly prone to crying – especially in public. So often I emerge dry-eyed from films or shows or exhibitions at which everyone around me is audibly sobbing, feeling oddly shamed by the chorus of sniffles and sighs. Is it that I simply don’t feel as much as them? Or that the public nature of the theatre auditorium or art gallery is too exposing a place to reveal emotion? Or, perhaps, that I feel inhibited as a critic, conscious of my responsibility to be rational rather than emotional?

One piece of criticism that I keep returning to, acknowledging again and again its impact on me, is academic Jennifer Doyle’s reflection on Franko B’s I Miss You. Oddly, it is a piece of art that I never saw. What I’m struck by, though, is Doyle’s emotional response to the piece and her attempts, through this piece of writing, to work through that emotion. The provocation of the unexpected tears elicited by I Miss You expands into a much wider discussion about art, emotion and the position of the critic, who has been encouraged to treat crying with suspicion and disdain.

Two suggestions made by Doyle catch at my mind every time I read them. The first is that, in the space of the gallery or classroom (to which I mentally add the theatre), the act of crying “can leave us feeling a bit naked”. The second is the idea that the impulse of the critic is not unlike “the boundless narcissism of the lover who loves in vain”; that the critical presentation of feeling masked by restraint might be compared with “the lover’s need to have his struggle to hide his feelings acknowledged”. In other words, we can’t admit to naked emotion, but we are desperate for readers to acknowledge the garments in which we have clothed it.

This year at the Edinburgh Fringe, an environment in which emotion is so often heightened and laid bare, I found myself wondering again about the role of emotion in criticism. Not least because my own emotions were frequently tapped in a way that startled me, leaving eyes and cheeks damp to the cool Edinburgh air. Talking to friends and fellow critics, I joked – in that way that everyone knows is not really a joke at all – about what a weepy festival I was having, to the extent that the slightest hint of sentimentality could set me off. No dry eyes now.

But how, as a critic, is it possible to render those tears on the page? Do they contaminate criticism, blurring thoughts like ink on paper, or just offer another lens through which it’s conducted? The answer is … I’m not sure. I have huge admiration for the way in which feeling suffuses the prose of others’ theatre writings – most notably (and brilliantly) Maddy Costa and Megan Vaughan – but it’s a different matter entirely when it comes to tapping out my own emotions on my computer keyboard. I feel far more comfortable with analysis and reflection, whereas I often wince when I see my own feelings held at one remove, suddenly appearing trite and artificial in unforgiving black and white. In a culture saturated with emotion, a culture fed on sob stories and Hollywood romance and X Factor montages, feeling feels cliched.

There’s one section in Ross Sutherland’s Standby for Tape Back-Up that I remember vividly from the work in progress I saw last summer and that jumps out at me again when I see the show for a second time in Edinburgh. Sutherland is recalling the death of his grandfather, a moment in his life that frames the whole piece, and talking about his emotional response. All he can think of as he tries to comprehend the enormity of this loss is the way in which people react to death in films and television programmes. His bereavement is filtered through pop culture, through all of the possible behaviours he has experienced through the screen. It’s a state of emotional uncertainty and paralysis so familiar it hurts. Is this really how I feel, or is this how I’ve been told I should feel?

Another moment that punches me in the stomach with its familiarity and somehow – paradoxically, uncannily – with its unfamiliarity arrives towards the end of Men in the Cities. Chris Goode is telling the story of Brian, just one of the many broken, contorted men who populate his play. Brian is drunk and grieving and heartbroken, walking through the busy streets of London surrounded by the pre-Christmas crush of shoppers. Until suddenly a singing voice breaks through the crowd and the whole piece lurches in a furious new direction. Goode is vomiting an extraordinary stream of text, words that break and fall over me and half of which I don’t really comprehend until I read the script later. In the moment, all I’m aware of is the pure, throbbing, exquisite anger of it all.

People are crying, but this is one of the moments I don’t feel close to tears for a change. Instead I feel emptied out, as though my insides have angrily leapt up on stage with Goode, as though every murmur of rage I’ve ever felt and tuned out has been ear-splittingly amplified. In life, I’m bad at being angry. But like the glorious noise of #TORYCORE, Men in the Cities is angry for me – though not with any of the passivity that suggests. It transforms my anger into something external, something shared. I look at this anger, this hurt that is at once recognisable and alien, and it is nothing like the emotion relentlessly beamed from screens.

I don’t cry during Men in the Cities. I do cry during Clara Brennan’s monologue Spine, though less for the human relationship at its core than the intertwining of this very personal story with the play’s angry, energised and tentatively hopeful politics. I leak a quiet couple of tears during Bryony Kimmings’ new work in progress at Forest Fringe. My eyes well up as my heart thumps during Greg Wohead’s small but beautiful Hurtling. Countless other shows lead me to the brink of tears, sometimes with the profound and sometimes with the painfully banal. One morning, I almost cry while queuing to buy coffee, staring hard at a display of croissants until my eyes clear.

Not all those tears are bitter. Sometimes, like in Hurtling, they are little beads of relief and gratitude. But the show that really feels like a gift, that triggers all the right emotions at just the right time, is Every Brilliant Thing. Those occasions when a piece of theatre feels as though it has been created precisely for you to encounter in the particular parcel of time in which you encounter it are rare. Every Brilliant Thing, on one of the few sunny mornings of the festival, is one of those precious occasions.

My response to Duncan Macmillan’s play is hardly unique. The packed audience on the day I see it is all sniffs and smiles; a collective outpouring of joy and anguish. At one point the show uses, I think, the phrase “happy-sad”. It’s a simple contraction of two simple words – so simple that they conjure emotions little more complex than line drawings of faces with the mouth upturned or downturned – yet it’s somehow just right. Every Brilliant Thing is happy-sad, in the same way that so many moments in life are stained with the feeling of their opposite. Ecstasy is laced with sorrow and despair is pierced with hope.

It’s that heady cocktail of all the brilliance and heartache of simply existing in the world that intoxicates me. Sitting in the beautifully sociable space of Paines Plough’s Roundabout auditorium, I laugh and cry with relative decorum, but if left alone I would be heaving great, shoulder-shaking sobs, a stupid grin plastered on my face and tears rolling down my cheeks. There is no way in which Every Brilliant Thing turns away from the realities of depression and the bitter impossibility of making others happy, but still it is somehow joyous.

And so back to the cushion, the duvet, the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes. I find myself profoundly affected by Mental, Leadbitter’s almost-too-intimate show. This is another facet of depression, not entirely shorn of the optimism that tempers Every Brilliant Thing but certainly with more jagged edges. It is raw and painful and personal. At times I find it incredibly hard to watch, in part out of concern for Leadbitter and what he is forcing himself to revisit every time he performs this show, and in part for a hundred tiny other reasons entirely my own. Reflecting on the piece in the minutes, hours and days afterwards, I struggle to think about it in a way that isn’t deeply coloured by that emotion and difficulty. I wonder if that’s a problem.

Since returning from Edinburgh, and as part of an ongoing effort to make more time in my life for thought and reflection alongside the endless work I foist on myself, I’ve been listening to some of the conversations that Alex Swift has been recording and uploading to his website (if you have some time, do yourself a favour and check them out). In one, artist Harry Giles talks about how politics feels. It’s not something that usually gets raised (at least not explicitly) in political discourse, which tends to be steeped in ideology or, in the case of party politics, policy and spin. But really, when you stop and think about it, the feelings tied up in politics are what tend to have the most impact on our lives and opinions.

I’m not going to add my voice to the debate about Scottish independence – mainly because, being English, it’s not really my voice that matters. But what is astonishing and exciting about the impending referendum, particularly in recent days, is the way in which it has truly engaged a huge range of people in political discussion and how that political discussion has been vitally inflected by feeling. There is a passionate sense that this really matters. Not only that, but it matters not just in terms of the economic arguments that have dominated headlines; it matters at the level of identity and democracy.

In all thought, be it critical or political (and of course those two things are so often intertwined), emotion contains both danger and potential. Feeling in art has a tendency to be equated – often rightly – with catharsis, escapism and conservative sentimentality. But there is also another kind of catharsis to be found in art, one in which emotion is politically charged and straightforward sentiment is replaced by radical collective feeling. It is this collective feeling which Giles emphasises when he discusses how politics feels. And, though far from all of my tears in Edinburgh were provoked by this kind of emotion, it is a similar collective feeling that the space of the theatre is able to hold. When our bodies tense during Men in the Cities or we cry at the end of Spine, our emotions meet in the room, however fleetingly. We feel together.

I’ve now been wrestling with this unwieldy piece of writing for so long that its meandering train of thought is no longer clear to me. I’m not quite sure how I’ve travelled from Jennifer Doyle to tears to the Edinburgh Fringe to the Scottish independence referendum. What I’m clumsily grasping towards is something about emotion, art, criticism and politics; something about how feeling is provoked, experienced, processed and harnessed; something about crying in the theatre and what that really means.

The other night, with complete disregard for my own once again fragile feelings at that precise moment in time, I re-read Men in the Cities. Experiencing it again on the page, a good month after seeing it in Edinburgh and with more space in which to think about it, I was bowled over a second time by just what an extraordinary piece of art it is. It’s fucking stunning. And this time, tears did begin to pool in my eyes. It was these words, directed at the audience, that got me:

“I know. I know. Can we not just put it all down. Aren’t you tired of it all. Aren’t you just tired.”

That’s exactly how it’s written – no question marks. And if I’m remembering the performance correctly, those questions never really felt like questions in the moment either. If they were questions, if it were a genuine invitation to put “it” – anger, violence, hatred, the thousand tiny ways in which we hurt one another – down, then the catharsis would be too complete. It would be a bit of a cop-out, for theatre-maker and audience. Instead, in a world where we can’t (at least not yet) “put it all down”, this possibility is suggested and denied. Emotion is provoked, but never fully released.

In lieu of any real conclusion, I leave you all (or, rather, the handful of poor souls who have made it this far) with this, because a) it’s what I’m listening to this afternoon and b) Secret Theatre’s A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts is the best barometer I know of how I’m feeling each time I revisit it.