Monday, 11 February 2008

Made glorious summer...

Well, spring, anyway.

I haven’t actually been quite as ludicrously work-shy as the recent lack of activity on here suggests. In fact I’ve even been reviewing stuff for proper people; People who print on paper and everything. The results can be found variously for:

The West End oddity An Audience with the Mafia

Hackney Empire Studio show A Mother Speaks

And the Finborough’s latest, Weapons of Happiness

I have also managed a new blog for the Guardian.

This last was largely the result of a couple of emails from Big Chief Guardian Unlimited, drawing my attention to the stories included (you don’t think I spend my spare time trawling the Mirror’s website looking for theatre news, do you? Perhaps I should, but is life really long enough?). Before settling on my somewhat pious stance, I had been considering writing a piece on the hitherto unconsidered role that an actor’s pubic hair may unwittingly play in scenes of full-frontal nudity. Trivial, of course, and uncomfortably prurient, but increasingly it does seem like a faintly relevant question.

Thinking back, there were at least two occasions late last year when it had flickered across my consciousness. The first occasion was whilst watching Ian McKellan’s King Lear, for which - as you’ll see from the comments under my own piece, and most memorably summarised by Germaine Greer here - Sir Ian won almost as many plaudits for the size of his cock as for the quality of his acting. What no one bothered to mention was that the great man had perhaps the most neatly trimmed, almost cropped, pubic hair that Shakespeare’s mad monarch can ever have enjoyed. Far be it from me to speculate as to whether this pubic grooming regime gave McKellen his advantage over former Lear Ian Holm - whose own penis, as Mark Shenton notes, was cruelly slighted by Mark Lawson back in 1997.

The second occasion was during Katie Mitchell’s Women of Troy, during which Sinead Matthews, the actor playing Cassandra, briefly tries to rip off her dress, revealing a neat Brazilian - by which, I confess, I was briefly surprised. Not by the nudity itself - which seemed pretty integral to the choices made elsewhere - but by the quick question that flitted through my mind: put bluntly - did I think that the cursed prophetess, even in modern dress, would have had such pubic topiary? On balance, possibly not. But then I could well be about forty years behind the rest of the country on the subject of pubic styling. There doesn’t seem a polite way to find out, but then it doesn’t seem especially important, either.

All this does raise the interesting question that periodically crops up: to what extent can physical demands be made on actors working in theatre? Is it reasonable to expect an actor to either grow or cut their pubic hair in the pursuit of their role? Ok, this is a minor point. It doesn’t go half as far as the question posed by cinema - most recently, it is speculated, exampled by Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution - is it fair to ask actors to have actual sex with one another? Obviously, for a number of reasons, this is less relevant to theatre - for one thing Actual Sex is not allowed on stage; for another, could any pair (-or more) of actors be prevailed upon to have sex with one another to order at the same time for roughly the same duration for even a three-week run? Of course not. Beyond which, would anyone want them to? I like to imagine that, on the whole, people would not. But it is an interesting area, recalling Chris Goode’s enormously memorable comment on the erection sustained by one of the actors in the Oxford Stage Company’s production of Cleansed: “In the midst of all this performing, all this simulation, all this misconceived playing-at-extremity, there was this momentary realness, uncontrolled possibly, but showing everything else up as a kind of bourgeois party game, suffocating in the tiny airlock gaps between non-tessellating "theatrical" conventions.”

All this talk of pubic hair brings us neatly to this year’s Olivier Awards. These are possibly the most interestingly problematic set of gongs given to the theatre profession. The problem centres on the little reported fact that the Oliviers are essentially the in-house awards for the Society of London Theatre, an umbrella organisation which looks after the interests of many, but by no means all, London theatres. All fair enough, except that because of the way the awards are reported, they achieve coverage which, by failing to note the perameters of the awards, makes their choices often seem very oddly skewed.

The best clue comes from their Best New Play category. After all, no one in their right mind could seriously claim that: A Disappearing Number by Simon McBurney at the Barbican; The Reporter by Nicholas Wright at the National Cottesloe; Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre, adapted by Tanya Ronder at the Young Vic; and, War Horse based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford at the National Olivier - is a comprehensive shortlist of last year’s best new plays. But when you take away The Bush and The Royal Court Upstairs (not to mention 503, The Finborough; indeed pretty much all the spaces where “New Writing” happens) it starts to make a little more sense. There is only one award for non-SOLT theatres - the Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre award - this year’s nominations including: The Brothers Size at The Maria, Young Vic; Cinderella at Theatre Royal, Stratford East; Gone Too Far at The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at The Royal Court; and, the cast of That Face at The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at The Royal Court. This last specification is particularly puzzling - is it a deliberate sleight to Polly Stenham and Jeremy Herrin’s input into proceedings? If not, why make the distinction which is not applied to even the other Royal Court Upstairs show? Answers on a postcard...

3 comments:

Alison Croggon said...

An Audience With The Mafia sounds, in its own way, quite remarkable. But probably better to hear about than to experience.

Ian Shuttleworth said...

For me it's tattoos. You may have stopped wearing a labret years before you get cast as Amanda in Private Lives, but you can't just discard that big pseudo-tribal splotch of whirly black on your shoulder.

Andrew Field said...

I had to wikipedia the term 'labret'.