Apr 17, 2007

Wonderful World of Dissocia at the Royal Court

I know, I know you've been sick with worry but the lack of posting is because I have had to escape to Edinburgh for a few days. But just wanted to write a few words about Wonderful World of Disocia at the Royal Court, which I had the chance to catch before I went away. It is an absolute delight.

I will try and write on this a little more when I get back but for me it completed a trilogy of productions that I have seen this year that would have been impossible without film and television.

The first, Love Song, was a rather confused and anaemic rehashing of a series of hollywood conventions that failed to lure a different audience to the theatre with its superficial newness.

The second was the much, much, much talked about Attempts on Her Life, that gloriously (and indeed beautifully) deconstructed the conventions of film and television to lay bare their artificiality.

Without giving too much away, one of the reasons that Dissocia was so effective was that its two utterly disparate halves were presented through two different sets of convention; Neilson (as writer and director) created such a startling disonance between the first and the second half as much through form as through content. In the first half (deep within the world of Dissocia) theatricality reigned supreme, characters sang and danced, they played out to the audience, actors and props doubled up (in one case with such seamless ease that the lead character herself wasn't sure what was going on...) - like David Eldridge's Marketboy the joyously raucous conventions of the theatrical spectacle were harnassed by a fiercely intelligent writer in love with his medium.

The second half however didn't just change to a set of different theatrical conventions, it almost transfered to a wholly different medium - that of film. This was clear from the moment that (with an audible gasp) the safety curtain rose. Suddenly the audience viewed the stage through a letterbox shaped piece of glass surrounded by black (the panoramic scope of the cinema screen). Like Drunk Enough to Say I Love in the same theatre, here was a deliberately filmic (or in Drunk Enough... televisual) framing of the stage. Within this cinematic frame, the actors now played only a single character, speaking totally naturally, their disembodied voices (like those of film actors) amplified through the theatre's sound system.

Unlike Love Song that floundered and eventually collapsed between its two stools, Neilson is a writer/director with a keen sense of his medium - he plays with the cinematic gaze to transport us to the cold, naturalistic, voyeristic universe of film. The half plays out like an Ingmar Bergman film, where even the tiniest starkly lit movement is almost unbearable. There is none of the anarchic joy of the first half, for the audience as much as for the characters, now there is only isolation and indifference.

Michael Billington is utterly wrong to suggest that one half is better than the other; it is the contrast between the two universes that is shattering. The first half suckers you in with its grab-bag of theatrical tricks that almost invite the audience on to the stage - the second half spits you back out again and leaves you brutalised, the stage feeling as distant now as the other side of a cinema screen.

It is a magical piece of work by a writer/director (maybe a writer for theare) who arguably loves and understands his medium better than anyone of his generation.

Turns out it wasn't quite that quick a note after all. But hope you like it nonetheless. Back from the north soon.

1 comment:

Andrew (a West End Whinger) said...

Kind of agree, but beg to differ re: "Michael Billington is utterly wrong to suggest that one half is better than the other".

You're right about the contrast, but the first half simply isn't as successful in its role as the second half is.

In my humble opinion.