The other night I saw the most amazing thing. It was a play about a book called Spine.
Spine wanted to die. Spine told a long story and ripped pages out of himself as he went. He laughed and laughed as big pages with big words on them fell around him.
I took my six-year-old to see this play because he wanted to see his friends in it. These friends, who are mostly about eight, had also written it. One friend was a beautiful and sparkly spoon. Another one was a grumpy chair. He kept whispering to me: “Where’s Inken? Where’s Oskar?” He wasn’t really following the story about forgotten items of furniture who were all sad because they’d been consigned to the loft.
In the climax of the play, the Hero found Spine. I thought of Martin Sheen stumbling across Marlon Brando. Spine was supposed to answer the Hero’s question but he was too old and tired and instead he told a long story and ripped his pages out. Spine was played by two boys: one boy told the story and pushed the wheelchair that the other one was strapped into. The boy in the wheelchair really was strapped in. You could hardly see his costume for straps. He couldn’t sit up and he couldn’t speak but my God he could smile. And the laughing! He gave off light. He was so happy to be Spine.
In his lap was a big bag filled with pieces of paper. Each piece of paper had a single word written on it. FRIEND. DAY. PAPER. As his mate recited the story out they came. MORNING. One by one. BOYS.
It was a really hard task this boy had been given – it was the very limit of his physical capabilities. He had to concentrate really hard to get his hand into the bag and to get his fingers to pinch each piece of paper and to get each piece of paper past the saggy mouth of the bag. LITTLE. Sometimes his smile faded a little bit as though that might free up some strength to put into picking out these words. HERE. He was working so hard. It was so important.
And of course all the parents and the grown-ups in the audience had tears coming watching this heroic effort of will – this kid throwing away one exhausting, precious and careful word at a time. It was so beautiful and so critical. But all this kid was doing was his special job and his mate behind him was doing his special job too and the most resonant and humbling thing of all was that all the kids around these two on stage couldn’t wait for this long bit to be over. HAPPY.
They weren’t getting all caught up in some poetic vortex, they wanted to get to the song, thanks.
Even my six-year old did.
They were all fine about leaving the poetry alone. FOREVER.
There is just stuff to be done. LOOK. Look how hard we work to get anywhere near this. LOOK. Look how easy and how hard it is. SILENCE. The story is so long and you have to remember all those words. Look how those pieces of paper are such a long time coming. LOOK. SILENCE.
Look – you’re old and tired – but look – you have a bag of words on your lap – look! – a bag of words!