Suddenly its winter and I realise that I still have a lot of performances from this year to write up. It was the promise of http://sleepdogs.org/ current production of The Morpeth Carol (Bristol Old Vic showing until the 17th of December) that prompted me to remember the jungles and the battlefields of the WIP showing of The Bullet and the Base Trombone back in July as part of Bristol Ferment. The months have flown, although the memory of the performance is still clear in my head and I’ve been contemplating it for quite some time. It was a lesson in the power of sound.. (so much so that I was wandering around rock pools in Wales with a Dictaphone last summer) but most significantly in the power of imagination.
As usual I try and approach these things with an open mind – and I’ve given up trying to predict what could possibly be presented during this type of theatre and just try and go with whatever it is. Suffice to say that the Bullet and the Base Trombone was my first sound based performance so I was excited in discovering what that actually meant.
As the performance began I am the first to admit that I was completely confused as to how much of this was actually real – I mean it sounded so real. And the story well – these things do happen don’t they? There are lands that colonist conquered with their silly wigs and western ideologies, and well we see conflict on the news today all the time, right?
The sparcity of the stage made the experience more atmospheric. It was like my mind had room to construct the scene (although I did spend the first five minutes staring at the equipment compulsively thinking ‘I wonder what that button does?) A story told by a man alone on a stage surrounded by people. The story of an orchestra or those behind the music.
Can you see them standing there?
The man told us of music. Of the construction of music. Of how the notes were geographical, like islands in his mind. I don’t read music. But I can see the islands too.
The man told us of an orchestra. Of the people and the lives behind the music. And there was a jungle and a bird. A beautiful beautiful bird that sang so hauntingly and sadly. A jungle with people who knew their environment so well. The orchestra were on a mission – to play music all around the world – but the world they stumbled into was one devoid of music and full of conflict. People with guns. No birds sang here. I don’t remember what happened really. How the players strayed so close to the conflict zone, how they were discovered, how the girl with the cello was held at gun point. ‘Play’ the child had said to her. The children watched and listened fascinated– until eventually as they grew bored she was shot in the ankle and left for dead. Maybe the bird sang again after that, maybe the women crawled to shelter, maybe some of the orchestra were reunited… but what of the others?
‘That’s all I’ve got folks’ said the man, swiftly disappearing into the shadows.
We sat for a moment. Quietly stunned.
Well. After that ferment experience I was properly self-prepped for the potential of my own internal response to another sound based performance. What the previous show had taught me is to listen, but perhaps importantly that I could still apply my imagination. I’m not sure grown ups do this very often. Children, yes, but grown ups? What did I imagine?
- I’d imagine I can deliver that for you on time.
- I’d imagine you’ll receive the invoice in a week or so.
- I’d imagine the computer will be fixed soon.
- I’d imagine that all those pizza delivery leaflets will eventually block the access to my front door
The Morpeth Carol was a different kind of story… but one where I still could exercise my imagination.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin..
A small intimate studio. Anybody fancy a Christmas cuddle? Five performers, five scripts, five desk lamps. Some crunchy snow-gravel.
So. Er.. Are they just going to read it then?
Once again I soon learnt that taking away the traditional trappings of the theatre suddenly made my ears work better. Sometimes I get a flinching moment of anxiety… but where is all the stuff? You mean it’s just us and them? So we listened…. And we looked…. And they looked back.
It was like a bedtime story – well one where all the reindeers died anyhow. A Northern town, a small child who saw everything, a grown child, a man as old as life itself. A drunk mother, a father that wasn’t much good at anything. I squirmed at the violent bits. Felt that apathy of those working in retail. The universe worked in unequal and inexplicable ways, but as the old man once said – the specific workings of the universe were not really that important.
Snow crunched, the wind howled, sirens wailed. The story unfolded rapidly and all drawing toward an inevitable Christmas conclusion….
Or was it?
A poignant, sincerely performed and clever production subtly questioning the meanings of Christmas, tradition, class, race, family and gifts.
Shame on me for being such a bloody humbug this year.
Sleepdogs and Bristol Ferment present The Morpeth Carol which runs at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until December the 17th 2011.