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Archive for March, 2011

I went to see Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein at the Nation with IPM and his friend JDC.  It was very early in the run, only a night or so after the previews.  We saw Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein.  The opening is a long wordless sequence when the Creature emerges from a womblike structure, and flails around, naked and without speech, as he slowly realises how his limbs work.  Cumberbatch (yes, he had been working out) showed incredible physical dedication to the idea of an adult human with only newborn self-awareness.  It was very long however (the sequence, not anything else, we were too far away to see…) and whilst it was an astonishing piece of physical theatre, the director should have cut it by a good few minutes. 

Cumberbatch is extraordinary, it was electrifying to see him in this role as he interacts with the world, and starts to learn.  He is physically pitch-perfect, and commands total attention.  He is not a selfish actor however, the other cast members are given plenty of space.  It’s just that not one of them was in the same league.  Jonny Lee Miller was very good, and with another actor that would have been enough.  But he’s playing opposite one of the finest theatre actors of a generation, and he seemed to be trying too hard.  The rest of the acting was patchy, some performances were good, others risible.  Colour-blind casting is only colour-blind when the actors are chosen for their ability rather than their skin colour, and Frankenstein’s father, a black actor, was just dreadful. 

The staging was very cinematic, with extremely high production values.  It used the Olivier space with great imagination, and the scenes moved with such pace that the overall effect was incredibly exciting.  The lighting was particularly clever, not often the sort of thing I would notice. When it finished, a sizeable number of the audience were on their feet for a standing ovation.

Afterwards IPM, JDC (both actors) and me went for dinner to discuss it.  We all really enjoyed it (and know how lucky we were to get tickets to a sold-out run).  It is an incredible spectacle, and Cumberbatch in particular is mesmerising.  But none of us, ultimately, were moved by what is one of the most tragic stories.  The book is powerful, passionate, political, thrilling, violent and tragic.  The script was really none of these things, and whilst it told the story clearly and simply, it didn’t reach the heights of plumb the depths of Shelley’s prose.  It’s a great show, but it doesn’t come close to the book.

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My friend M appeared in a all-female production of A Doll’s House. 

http://www.theatredelicatessen.co.uk/blogs/a-dolls-house/

I went to see it to support M, but I wasn’t sure what the point of an all female cast would be.  Not that I thought it would be a bad idea, but what it could add to the original conception.  In the first act, I found the woman playing Torvald, the husband, almost unbearable to watch.  The performance was so arch, so stereotypically male, all lechery and patronisation and raised eyebrow.  In the second half however, as Torvald’s certainties start to fall apart, the performance became more fractured, more pathetic, more sympathetic, more real.  

I felt as if, in the casting of women, I was being shown masculinity as performance,  as a face that needs to be adopted as the man faces the world.  That masculinity is a construct, as much as femininity is.  A few weeks later I went to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to see a Drag King night with S and C.  Women dressing up as men, for the entertainment of other women, is an incredibly carefree night out.  The night was mixed, some men, some straight women.  But the atmopshere was like a wonderful girls’ common room, no teachers and no boys allowed.  Girls, women, were free to take on the stereotypical attributes of masculinity, male performers, and subvert them.   Maybe women need to experience a sock down the pants to understand how hard, how ridiculous, how painful it must be sometimes to be a man, and that being a feminist means wishing for a world in which we destroy the contructs of gender to experience each other, and each other’s realities as men and women, different certainly, but not opposed.

Women as men hasn’t been a deliberate quest recently, but perhaps coincidences make themselves, and I saw Twelfth Night recently.  As it’s cast today, a woman will play Viola, pretending to be a man, to make her way in the world after the storm she assumes has drowned her brother.  In Shakespeare’s time, a young man would play a woman, playing a man, and it would be interesting, if a little mind-bending to see that today.  And lastly, on this gender-blurring tip I’ve been on recently, I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  In an interview he gave on the book’s publication,

http://bombsite.com/issues/81/articles/2519

Eugenides says,

‘I grew up in the unisex 70s.  The heyday of nurture.  Everyone was convinced that personality, and especially gender-specific behavior, was determined by rearing.  Sexologists and feminists insisted that each child was a blank slate and that rearing determined gender roles.  Now everything is reversed.  Biology and genetics are considered the real determinants of behavior. Having lived through the demise of the first oversimplification, I suspect the imminent demise of the current one… So we have these pat theories about evolutionary causes for our present behaviors.  Men can’t communicate because 20,000 years ago they had to be silent on the hunt.  Women are verbal because they had to call out to each other while gathering nuts and berries.  This is just as silly as the previous nurture explanations.’

I hope his predictions about the immiment demise of pseudo-scientific, pseudo-psychological misogyny and misandry are correct.

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