Archive for September, 2011

The Mother Scoop at More London 01 September 2011

September 3, 2011

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Picture from timeout.co.uk

About the venue and company

These are free shows in a nice little amphitheatre, but there are barriers and you get the back of your hand stamped as you go in–I don’t know why.  You can buy refreshments and programmes and hire cushions.  The programme says SIFT [Steam Industry Free Theatre Ltd] believes that all people, irrespective of age, education, physical ability or ethnic background, should be able to access, and participate in high quality free theatre.  That sounds as though Brecht might have agreed.  The ancient Athenians for their part had a ‘theoric fund’ to allow those who could not pay to attend the theatre, and rather a large portion of the relevant demographic must have appeared in the chorus at one stage or another.

About the play

This 1932 play by Brecht is based on a novel by Maxim Gorky dating from 1906.  The theme is how Pelegea Vlassova an illiterate lower-class woman is drawn into the revolutionary struggle by the activity and imprisonment of her son Pavel and herself becomes a revolutionary activist, realising she must struggle for all sons of all mothers, until she triumphantly if limpingly gets to carry the Red Flag during the October Revolution of 1917.

About this production

So we had the floor of the amphitheatre with a couple of huts in the spirit of the Athenian Greek skene at opposing ends.  It was all done in fine Brechtian style, with voice-overs announcing the scenes, dodgy onstage lighting, marching and songs.  And a red flag the only splash of colour among the black grey and brown. Nicky Goldie gave a commanding performance as Pelagea Vlassova and Alistair Hoyle as her son Pavel sung very well.  I thought the portrayal of the policemen was a bit close to naturalism, and indeed naturalistic stereotype, while there was something ineradicably German about the part of the estate butcher who comes round to supporting the striking estate workers.

Are we meant to take what the text appears to say seriously these days?  This performance seemed to be subjecting it to ironic–if not mocking–scrutiny, which must be the best approach…

День опричника (Den’ oprichnika) Vladimir Sorokin

September 1, 2011

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OK so if you concentrate hard you can work out the year is 2027 and Russia is hiding behind a wall and has even returned to the days of Ivan the Terrible and his oprichnina (secret police? private army?)  We follow one day in the life of Andrei Komyaga, who is second-in-command of the new oprichnina of the new Sovereign who has restored Russia’s pride by getting rid of things like foreign travel and a choice of goods in the shops.  An excessive choice in any shops.  You can choose from two sorts of anything in traditional Russian kiosks.  Apart from there only being one type of cheese.  Also the Sovereign has at least partly banned swearing and drunkenness, which is rather a change from the times of Ivan IV.

In general, I found the thing rather good-natured by Sorokin’s standards.  It’s difficult to alienate the reader’s sympathy in a first-person narrative, and apart from gang-raping the disgraced nobleman’s wife at the beginning (and I suppose hallucinating about raping an American woman while transformed into a conjoint dragon with the rest of his band) he didn’t do much I disapproved of.  Corruption…court intrigue…carrying on court intrigue with the help of dark forces and a crippled clairvoyante…SA-style homosexual orgies with the help of improved Chinese penises…killing formerly important people no longer desired by the Sovereign…all in a day’s work really.

The Sovereign seemed remarkably mild in many ways for a Russian leader of any stamp, never mind a new Ivan IV.  I rather enjoyed the fake-Old-Russian language  with its simple declarative sentences and merisms in place of stilted abstractions, and there were even some sightings of the vocative case!

But the dystopian future portrayed here was like Heaven by comparison with the ‘realistic’ present in Yuri Buyda’s latest offering, and I think Sorokin does the same kind of thing rather better in Goluboe salo where there is some genuine bitterness and shock value, not to mention extensive swearing and drunkenness, and a much better hook to hang his beloved parodies and pastiches on.

This was another example of the typical Sorokin Chinese takeaway:  you consume it avidly–he is a very good writer at putting the words on the page so that you want to know what happens next–and then you wonder: Was that all?