I squeezed a couple of fringe things in at the end of last week. Friday night I swung by the Arcola (and, as if to compensate for previous lateness incidents at this venue, I managed to arrive almost an hour early, and was forced, forced, to spend the intervening minutes milling about in the bar, drinking coffee, reading the paper and generally being indolent – a tough, tough life).
I was there to see The Blind, a staging of Maurice Maeterlinck's 19th century parable in the smaller downstairs studio. The play has a very Beckett-ish quality. A group of inhabitants from a hostel for the blind have been taken out on excursion by the priest who looks after them. But, for unknown reasons, he has abandoned them, and so they sit and wait for his return.
This is a very still production with long, l-o-n-g periods of silence. The six actors, three men and three women, are all either blind are visually impaired. They sit around a u-shaped rock, one by one rising to their feet, saying their piece. Above them hangs a lonely globe light that could easily be either sun or moon, emphasizing their isolation. The characters fret about their situation, but nobody takes any action, they bicker and worry, but remain where they are - sitting and waiting. Despite its literal casting, this is a play less about being blind and more about being lost and without power, forever waiting to be saved.
The night before I'd been over to the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch, where I'd met up with Helen Smith and Andrew of the West End Whingers to check out Tom Green's The Death of Margaret Thatcher. It's a provocative title to be sure, and one that probably does the play a disservice in the long run, setting up expectations that were, inevitably, difficult to meet. The resulting play was less explicitly about Thatcher’s legacy and more an entertaining satire on how such events are covered by the media, how deeply complex issues are compacted into easily churned out sound bites, banal and insincere pieces-to-camera, a life reduced to a fixed smile and a somber nod of the head.
Green does make some reference to the level of venom she generated in the British public during her time as PM: throughout the play we hear of a man who is walking down to London with the intention of spitting on her grave, gathering a large band of followers in the process – but, tellingly, this character is never seen, never heard.
I was born in the year that Thatcher came to power and the play did make me think about my memories of the woman, my own memories, not ideas absorbed in later years – perhaps sadly it does boil down to free school milk and the odd snippet of news footage about the Falklands and the miners. Being both a single mother and an immigrant, my mum was unsurprisingly not a fan of the Tories, and inevitably that colours my thinking – but I also remember the faint warmth that came from there being a woman in a position of such power. When my mother and aunts told me I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be, Mrs Thatcher was proof of how true that was – which really meant something especially since I can clearly remember a time at primary school when we my class was asked by our teacher what jobs we would like when we were older and most of the girls were still answering with something along the lines of ‘secretary’ and ‘dancer’. (I think I said ‘writer’, silly child that I was).
Anyway, the Daily Mail has got itself in a right old stink about the show, which while predictable, is also quite funny – they also seem to have forgotten that over at the Apollo Victoria they sing nightly about Thatcher’s death in the Billy Elliot musical.
Green’s play also afforded me the opportunity to see my second naked cock in as many evenings, (following A Prayer For My Daughter at the Young Vic), a sentence I include purely to see what interesting search engine traffic it swings my way.