Monday, 31 March 2014


I know, I know... Two blog posts in as many days, how unlike me. I found this poem though, which I wrote when playing Clytemnestra for The Rose Company, and not having looked at it in months I'm still quite proud of it, so...

The Murderess

He was always killing, my second husband. It was the only language he understood.
Words he bent and twisted to mask his intent; gold is a soft metal.
Swords he could speak in, held erect in his fist.
Edges he understood, and partings. Blood he listened to.

He killed my first husband, they remember that. He killed my son.
I'm told that is what lions do.
I never spoke my child’s dear name again. I will not say it now.
I keep the memory, hot and heavy in my womb.
I have swallowed coals.
One coal I carried long - an agony cherished, and then one more; a girl.

I mourn the children lost to sickness, too, and the struggles of the birthing bed,
I carry their weight still, of course they haunt me.

Only my murdered children blaze and burn.
Only the ones he killed consume me.
My boy’s name is forgotten now and mine alone, but hers...
She always wanted fame, my daughter.

He took me away with him, of course. They say he made me wife.
My baby's blood still speckled in his beard when he first raped me.

My brothers swore revenge. So rumour said.
And I, the spoils, rejoiced to hear it.
But kings are practical men, or they die young, and my father made arrangements.
The city his to keep, and in all honour, provided he called me wife and queen, sat me beside him.
I would have rather died - but no such choice was offered.
Revenge is men's work.

I know they say that I was angry to be set aside.
I will not leave that lie behind me.
His concubine, the prophetess, I killed in love.
She laughed and thanked me when she saw the blade, with her own hands she drew it to her throat.
She died a captive like myself, rejoicing in the blood that freed her.

He did not know me at the end. I could not risk it.
He was a strong man still, tempered by battle.
I dosed his wine, and so he died asleep, drowning in blood and water.

I too had learned to read the blade, it spoke as I had honed it; and as for blood,
it’s women’s native speech. He was fool to think that he could out-debate me.
I wish he had not slept so sound, that I had seen his eyes meet mine before I dimmed them.
That would have pleased me, that one look.
Revenge is men’s work. I killed him in the name of my son,

and for Iphigenia.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Playing Keepsie-Upsie.

It’s a truism that live performance, whatever else it might be, is a collaboration between audience and performer(s). It’s a truism because it’s true. It identifies a phenomenon I think we’re all aware of when we’re part of it but which is very difficult to describe or even visualise. 

I  imagine the shape of the show as something we hold between us, lightly, as you hold a kite by the fingertips, singing to the wind in the seconds before you let go. I see it as a sculpture of looks and words and movements, as though we juggled and shaped it among and above us, fluid, hollow, transparent as light. I don’t see it as any of those, exactly, not even all of them together. It's not like that at all. It is kept in the air, though - suspended, like disbelief, raised like a circus tent and kept in the air by ropes held in human hands. And like a circus tent, the more of you there are, the easier it is.

One of the things I do theatre for, ever since I was a kid, is that collective awareness, that sense of being part of a whole that is greater than the sum of us all. What I celebrate in the work I love is the extent to which it feeds that interconnectedness, what I critique in the work I dislike is the way it works to thwart or betray it. And I don’t mean that sense of shared presence as something that’s all sweetness and light, though I think even the bleakest work owes its audience a degree of nurture, of loving-kindness.
Kindness because it’s a kindness people do, when they come to see your work, over and above the price of the ticket, the traveling, the childcare or any other arrangements they’ve made; the simple act of agreeing to give you their attention is a kindness and you owe them at least as much in return.

Outside those immediately connected with the show, 10 people did me that kindness this week. I can see each face as I write, each gaze that connected with mine and fed M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A, and I love them all, a little bit, I treasure their complicity in what I made with them.

But to return to the elaborate metaphors I launched in the first paragraph, I am also very tired, and somewhat drained. Because the fewer you are, the more effort goes into keeping the performance afloat. We did it; my three friends (the audience) and my producer in what I called a ‘dress run’, but was of course a performance on Wednesday in the rehearsal room. We did it on Friday at UCLan; the woman who’d, unfathomably, come all the way from London, my two friends and fellow UCLan alumnae, the performance–maker I toured with once who teaches there now, the man whose face I recognised but name I didn’t know, the event organiser, the usher, the lecturer I never got on with when I was a student. The show, in spite of everything (my mistakes included – I asked far more of them than I intended to, of which more in another post) did stay suspended, and we were in on it together, ‘til the end. 

And of course we’re not in the business of perfection, we’re in the business of experiences that live and enrich. So perhaps it shouldn’t bother me so much that I wasn’t able to add as much nuance and detail as I’d like, not even close. That I dropped one of my favourite moments, and failed to shade things that needed shading, just because there was so much of me used up in keeping the show in the air. Those small audiences were tired too, especially Friday's. They were with me all the way to the end, but they were tired. And that though M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A is fed by this week, the show is awake again and ready to fly, I am a hollow thing, drained, a husk, holding some insights to herself from the experience, some tasks, but no euphoria. I did know that performance doesn’t owe me a high. I knew. But having a show go well and feeling empty... well, there it is.