Archives for posts with tag: the Print Room

I have seen such great theatre in London of late, tonight absolutely included.

I rarely go to large venues these days, instead loving the intimacy that smaller theatres offer and so often deliver.

This is probably my third or fourth time at The Print Room, and as a space to visit I love it more each time. Within the building I have been entertained in different ‘rooms’ on different occasions. Tonight, we were treated to a glass of wine in a little candlelit ante room (with piano), before moving up (narrow) stairs to the performance.

The play was performed within a relatively narrow rectangular space. There are three performers, Catherine, Joshua and Simon, all of whom are present for the 90 minute or so duration of the piece. The actors were uniformly really impressive.

Simon is a psychiatrist – of the ‘old’ school, a ‘pedantic piece of shit’ as named by Joshua – who is simultaneously seeing/treating both Catherine and Joshua.

Catherine has amnesia. Simon, who has become ‘bored by suffering’, is nonetheless interested in Catherine and her psychiatric state. His goal is to ‘remove the plaster’, thereby liberating her memory. The amygdala of the play’s title is the part of the brain that has come to be viewed as the centre of emotional memory.

The story that predated Catherine’s amnesia gradually unfolds. Catherine is a middle class lawyer who lives in Hampstead with her French lawyer husband, who seems to spend more time in Paris than in London, and their two young children. Joshua’s life rests at the other end of the spectrum, as a musician (saxophone) who takes the bus rather than black cabs, and who lives a life devoid of books. Yet, a series of (seemingly) chance encounters brings Catherine and Joshua together.

As Simon works on removing Catherine’s ‘plaster’, the traumatic and tragic story behind her memory loss is revealed. Many themes and threads pervade this short work of art, all of which weave together to create a story of humanness with all its inherent and inevitable flaws, frailties and vulnerabilities.

All three characters, most especially Simon and Catherine, are alone, lonely and vulnerable. Inside, but most especially outside the courtroom, truth is questioned and sought. Amygdala is a story of need and of desire, and of the reality and consequences of love, and the living of it, that is both beautiful and tragic.

CQ

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This play is currently on at The Print Room, London. I have just seen it, and was lucky to catch a pre performance talk by the theatre’s resident academic Dr Cindy Lawford, which helped put the play in context.

The play started out originally as a 20 minute piece about two men who meet in the waiting room of a large state mental hospital in New England. Both of their wives are inpatients, one has been there for 7 weeks, a third admission, the other for around a week.They both suffer from ‘depression’. The play was later expanded, now lasting 75 minutes, with a middle portion focusing on the two women and their relationship. In the final section, all four protagonists share the stage together.

As the programme states, there is much here that relates specifically to New England. At the time of its first performance, it was claimed that the play asserts “the values on which this country was founded deserved to be cherished”. The townspeople Miller depicts, particularly the character of one of the husbands Leroy, are “bedrock, aspiring not to greatness but to “decent children and a decent house and a decent car”. Yet, as Dr Crawford continues, Miller also considers that “…but some of them…have gotten sick with what would once have been called a sickness of the soul.”

The Last Yankee does feel like an exploration of this ‘sickness of the soul’. Not only the two inpatient wives but also their husbands are treated almost like cases studies in Miller’s narrative, and consequently the play sets out to ‘diagnose’ the aetiologies. For the women, disastrous marriages, a family history of mental illness, a lifelong sense of not being understood, the dawning realisation that for their futures there is now only one possible answer to the questions ‘is this it?/what is this?, all lead to ‘depression’ and an ‘opting out’ of their familiar and unbearable lives into the ‘safety’ of a mental institution.

The women’s characters feel stronger and more thought through, but perhaps that dichotomy is the whole point. The men avoid such questionings and explorations and make do with the life they have. There is a fatalism in their thinking, which at least partly drives the women to the brink of their lives.

There is a redemption of sorts at the end, which is left tantalisingly open to interpretation. The optimists in the audience, perhaps the majority, left feeling hopeful.

Leroy says to his wife towards the end of the play, you gotta love this life you have…

CQ

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Currently at The Print Room (a very lovely and intimate theatre near Westbourne Grove that I have only just discovered), Molly Sweeney first appeared in 1994. Inspired by the playwright’s own cataract operations in 1992, the play consists of a series of monologues from three performers: Molly Sweeney (Dorothy Duff), who has been blind since 10 months of age, Molly’s husband Frank Sweeney (Ruairi Conaghan), and the surgeon Mr Rice (Stuart Graham), who operates on Molly in an attempt to restore her sight.

This is an intense piece, superbly acted, which explores not just the meaning of sight and vision and the disconnectedness between seeing and understanding, but also addresses issues around identity, how we define ourselves, how we allow others define us, and the tragic consequences that can ensue when we change who we are, not for our own sakes, but for those we love.

The play is primarily the story of Molly, but it is also the story of Frank, whose mission and obsession becomes the restoration of Molly’s sight, and of Mr Rice, whose interest in operating on Molly takes on a personal agenda that goes beyond his patient and her needs.

A microcosm of life itself, the three characters represent the world at large, the interconnectedness and conditionality of all our relationships, and how self-serving and destructive they can become.

Thought provoking stuff…

CQ