Blackshaw Theatre’s New Writing Nights:
An excerpt from a 1959 Australian Broadcasting Commission TV programme on the Beats, featuring interviews with Sydney University students, Clive James and Robert Hughes (pictured, image from ABC).
Eggs William S. Burroughs
Chop one onion and place it into a pan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Brown it.
Take the green part of 1 chicory salad (keep the white part for a salad). Chop it fine and add it to the onion. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add 4 chopped hard-boiled eggs, 1 clove of garlic that has been crushed into a little chopped parsley, 2 chopped peeled tomatoes, 1 more tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of meat stock, 1 pinch of pepper, one pinch of salt, and one sherry-glassful of claret. Cook for 5 minutes.
Boil 2 handfuls of noodles for 15 minutes. Strain. Be sure they are free of all water. Place them on the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with the chicory, etc., and bake in a preheated moderate oven of 350°F for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Henri Charpentier : Food and Finesse: The Bride’s Bible. Privately printed, Chicago, IL, USA. Recipe here. From Charpentier’s and Burroughs’ time in Chicago, in the early 1940s.
When a group of people jointly undergo an intensely searing experience, especially one where they face a mortal enemy or opponent, a bond is created between the participants that outsiders can find hard to penetrate or even to understand. Soldiers in battle, for example, often experience this, as good novels and films have long shown.
Last night, the audience at a King’s Players’ production in London had such an experience, and we will remember for the rest of our lives the courage and fortitude, resilience and – yes, dammit! – just plain, old-fashioned grit we all showed in the face of great odds. Nobody left, nobody laughed out loud, nobody became an alcoholic, nobody set off the fire alarm to bring this cruel and unusual torment to an end. During the quiet patches, those long dark nights of the soul, our focus on survival was so intense that the only sound you could hear was the swiveling of eyes.
Our first enemy was the play itself, Trojan Barbie, by Christine Evans. What an appalling piece of radfem agitprop! The writing is surely a parody of feminism, not intended to be serious, written as if by a teenager discovering poetry for the first time. The male characters are all evil rapists and thugs, and the women are either harlots or mad. Even the everywoman character Lotte is dotty. Not a single character appears real or embodied, a normal human being. No one grapples with the actual moral dilemmas of war, no one weighs pros and cons of different courses of action, not even in dialogue with one another. What plot there is is too ridiculous to be described, but involves unexplained time travel between ancient Troy and the present-day, with scenes set in doll repair shops, Mediterranean street cafes, refugee camps, battlefields, and the odd zoo. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.
Our second enemy, colluding with the first, were the cast and crew. Given the flaws of the script, one can only sympathize with actors having to make something of this. But why would anyone even try? Life is too short to waste it on such dross. And if, for some reason, you had to try, why not do it well? Why act badly? Why run around like a horse? Why impersonate Che Guevara and Zsa Zsa Gabor? Honestly, the only person missing from the production was Carmen Miranda with her hat made of fruit – although, there was in fact a samba. What was that doing there?
And the set! It included the world’s largest collection of Barbie Dolls, a massive pink cellophone heart, and the odd tiger. What normal person could possibly imagine that a large stuffed animal, a children’s toy, would convince us we are in a zoo? At first I thought it was intended as a visual metaphor for something else, something profound, perhaps a subtle reference to well-known war poet William Blake. (“Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright, In the forests of the Night.”) But No: the stuffed tiger behind a cage on stage was intended to be what is was: a tiger in a zoo. It roared through the sound-system, and it magically moved between scenes, sometimes lolling this way, and sometimes that. I have to say its acting was perhaps the most realistic of the evening, and I’m sure the tiger’s agent will be fielding many calls this morning.
No one would be converted to the merits of feminism by seeing this play, and lots of people would be deconverted. But that’s the usual way with agitprop: if you preach only to the choir, you lose the rest of the congregation. But of course, as with all agitprop, the preaching is not aimed at converting anyone, it’s aimed at making the preachers feel good about themselves. Shame about the poor audience, but.
However, we did make it through, we survived to the end without a single casualty. True, we lost two hours of our life that will never be regained. But we saw what we were all capable of under extreme pressure, we showed grace under fire, and we stood by each other right to the end. Being under fire together has made us life-long comrades, and at the annual reunions we survivors will no doubt tell and retell our stories of the time we fought Trojan Barbie, like the Band of Brothers that we now are.
Message to Homer: Your position as Trojan War historian is safe. No need to call your office.
PS (2014-04-06): Another review is here. “The stuffed animal representing the tiger was a bit unnecessary”
Police report of “Romeo and Juliet” Confidence Scam:
Location of crime: Upstairs Foyer, Greenwood Theatre, Guy’s Campus, King’s College London.
Date of crime: Evenings of 5th, 6th, 7th February 2014. The crime may also have been “rehearsed” before these dates on unwitting spectators.
Financial sponsors: A group calling itself King’s College London English Literary Society.
Nature of crime: Deconstruction of playwright’s text without single reference to post-colonial or feminist perspectives. Co-conspirator “The Friar” tore out pages of “Romeo and Juliet” text to manifest true nature of crime.
Key victims: William Shakespeare, women.
Perpetrator: Unknown. Calls himself “The Director”. Identity: Elusive. Real identity unknown. May use pseudonyms: W. Nash, Rookie Monster, DPR, Edward Snowden.
Known Co-conspirators: Marcus “The Friar” Bazley, Hillary “The Counsellor” Chua, Laura “Juliet” Deering, Jackie “Lady Capulet” Edwards, Matthew “Romeo” Hodson. Others involved in supporting the scam thought to be: Catherine Walters, Elena Gillies, Emma Lawrence, Aja Garrod, Aggi Cantril, Sophie Omar, and Kate Gardener. Notes found at crime scene indicate others may also have assisted, almost certainly without realizing the consequences.
Modus Operandi: Perp takes out-of-copyright play text, reducing number of characters, even using unwitting mark in audience to play role in deception. Play cut down and cut up, and done as crime scene investigation, with scenes “reconstructed” by “actors”. Legal counsel present to narrate events and give illusion of objectivity.
Perp uses intelligence and wit to produce amusing, clever, and sophisticated version of play, which is used as a “script” that is then executed (“performed”) by co-conspirators in front of marks. Performance of script of professional standard, and very realistic. Thus, marks easily deceived and soon suspend disbelief. Only one of the known co-conspirators is believed to actually make his living in theatre. Remaining co-conspirators possibly being groomed.
Co-conspirators take on “roles” to execute script. Thus, “The Friar” is a Cockney ex-junkie offering life advice to the other conspirators, along with marriage ceremonies and store-and-forward messaging services; “Romeo” is a lovestruck young man, writing dreamily in his Moleskine; “Lady Capulet” is a tyrant of the household, a dictator of the local. The different “roles” cleverly interleave, and jointly enable confidence scam. Indeed, witnesses report that the acting was so intense that it approached the threshold of caricature, but without ever crossing that threshold, making the performances thrilling to watch. Co-conspirators all appear to be under direct influence of Perp.
Co-conspirators use a variety of names, including real names, to confuse audience about when co-conspirators are “acting” in their “roles”, and when not. Humour and wit used to distract attention of audience from reconstruction of double suicide, following madness of young love, set amongst inter-gang warfare in urban Italy.
Toying with nature of “acting” indicates this is crime of real sophistication by people with extensive experience in deception and illusion. Perp and co-conspirators may have worked in Elizabethan theatre before. Crime shows many hallmarks of two known literary deceivers and wits with Elizabethan previous, Thomas Nashe and Kit Marlowe. Neither likely involved: Nashe believed deceased, Marlowe either deceased (Deptford Regional Office view) or living in exile in Italy.
Production involves post-coitus scene, drugs, violence, suicide, and death. No rock and roll, but. One person injured by vicious slap. Music deployed very effectively to “set the scene” and relax audience in preparation for confidence scam, and at various times during the operation to manipulate emotions of marks.
Use of Barber’s Adagio for Strings obviously intended as subtle allusion to FDR’s funeral and Oliver Stone’s film about Vietnam. This double allusion should allay concerns of English Department about absence of references to post-colonial oppression and the wickedness of US global hegemony, as well as providing a warm glow of self-satisfaction to the one person who caught the allusions.
Related scams: West Side Story, High School Musical.
Known beneficiaries of scam:
Progress of investigation: Police seeking the 132 witnesses to garner further information.
Public warning: These people are armed with professional acting skills and very dangerous. Perp may be serial dramaturge, intent on career in intelligent theatre or deception. Co-conspirators capable of superb acting at the highest level.
Deptford Regional Office reports rumour that next confidence scam may take place in Copenhagen.
Conspirators also believed to hold raucous after-play parties to celebrate success of scam, involving alcohol, tobacco, witty conversation, and profound arguments about the existence of God and the nature of relationships. Kit Marlowe would feel at home. US State Department Advisory: Americans visiting London particularly at risk.
Note: Potential side-effects of scam include reviews written as police-reports, pretentiously imitating style of the production itself.
Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effort of the English mind is directed to find a difficulty, defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: if you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple. Impart the same principle or show the same machine to an American, or to one of our colonists, and you will observe that the whole effort of his mind is to find some new application of the principle, some new use for the instrument. ”
Charles Babbage, 1852, in a paper on taxation. Cited on page 132 of Doron Swade : The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer. London, UK: Little, Brown and Company.
You won’t find this blog doing late-breaking news or commentary. Web-browsing, I am led to a report of an interview given by Cambridge academic George Steiner to a Spanish newspaper in 2008, in which he is quoted as saying:
“It’s very easy to sit here, in this room, and say ‘racism is horrible’,” he said from his house in Cambridge, where he has been Extraordinary Fellow at Churchill College since 1969.
“But ask me the same thing if a Jamaican family moved next door with six children and they play reggae and rock music all day. Or if an estate agent comes to my house and tells me that because a Jamaican family has moved next door the value of my property has fallen through the floor. Ask me then!”
In his essays and books, Steiner is a model of erudition. But his knowledge of music is quite evidently lamentable. In my experience, almost nobody likes BOTH reggae and rock music, and certainly no Jamaican I have known.
Ignorance of reggae seems to be a special attribute of the literati. VS Naipaul once described its beat as “pseudo-portentous”, a property which I have never been able to hear in the music itself. I doubt he could either; he just liked the phrase and disliked the music. And - like Charles Rosen with Mendelssohn – used his sharp verbal skills to seek to justify his prior musical tastes. In both cases, the attempt fails.
In response to Steiner’s ignorance, I decided to listen to the Master in a superb chilled-out remix:
followed by some of the best industrial noise:
Having created lists of concerts I have attended, bands I have heard, galleries I have visited, etc, I overlooked theatre productions I have seen. Herewith a list, sometimes annotated, to be updated as and when I remember additional events.
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