How I Learned to Love Opera

I was taken to the opera in 1987 by a friend. We were in Berlin. We had tickets to see La Boheme at the Komische Oper. I had never seen La Boheme, I didn’t even know the story (though I could have a guess, it was an opera, after all.) I hated opera.

My friend and I had a row at the interval. It was rubbish, could he not see that? Of course he could. No he couldn’t. What? Give me a break. No, give him. Those scenes in which we are expected to believe that they are all having a great time in the cafe. Because real people ALWAYS swing their drinking cups in time with one another, all facing in the same direction, some with one foot up on a stool to show they are having a good time in a cafe, don’t they? Don’t they? That is hardly the point. No you get over YOURself.

There were other travesties, mainly opera singers in love with their opera singing. My friend denied it. I was looking for these sins. Hard to avoid them when you’re facing a stage full of people tripping all over them. Didn’t I even like the music? Yes of course, some of it was even famous, big deal, but I had a walkman – the visuals were less distracting. I wasn’t going back in. I was. No I wasn’t, I’d sit in the bar. I bloody was. I bloody wasn’t.

And that was where my friend took the wheel. You do not sit through HALF of La Boheme. There was no argument because if I did not see it all there would be no argument. I was kind of loving the argument.

So we went back in. Rhetorical folding of arms.

I can’t remember the Third Act, but this is how I remember the Fourth Act. I don’t speak German so this is what I understood and remember.

In the Fourth Act, they, the couple we hope for, are reunited. Mimi and Rodolpho.

They have been apart, now here they are. She has consumption. He has betrayed her, he was frightened by her illness, her fragility. She is very unwell. They are together. Everything will be all right. Now at last it really will.

Their friends leave to sell something precious to buy her medicine. It is cold in the bare room where Rodolpho and Mimi are left with each other.

He loves her. They love each other and they can’t help but say it together. They want nothing now but to be together saying that simple thing again and again in a bare room forever. She is tired. He is not. He is full of life and full of her and everything will be all right. They are in love. Nothing has ever made so much sense. He says this. It makes a lot of sense to him. She smiles.

She is very still but he is almost dancing for the joy of being with her again. Maybe she smiles again. She will get better and they have the rest of time. The friends return, for some reason a muff is placed in Mimi’s lap. At least her hands can be warm.

And Rodolpho approaches her but even when he touches her she does not move. She is gone.

He screams her name. The orchestra goes mad. He screams again but she does not move. He does not sob and quiver, he just drops, screaming and the orchestra tells the rest.

She is dead. That was their time.

I was a mess. When we finally got there, to the last Act, I was him. She would not die. Because she would not. Because happiness. Surely. I couldn’t even clap.

I think we went for a drink. I don’t think we talked about it much at all. Since then I have tried to listen to La Boheme but there is not a recording in which the last Act is not a mess of consumptive coughing and operatic sobs. What we saw at the Komische Oper (and Barrie knew this, he insisted Harry Kupfer was the director to trust) was clean of all that acting. There is no need to help Puccini, of all people, along.

I daren’t see it again. I may never.


Unused to Film

I am on a film set today. My dressing room contains two enormous bean bags and a desk with a kettle and tea-making facilities, wifi and three bottles of water. I stayed in a four-star hotel last night and enjoyed a long bath. I could also have enjoyed a sauna and a swim but the bath was plenty. I was picked up early this morning by a driver and delivered to the make up van where I was made up by a lovely young woman who also plucked my eyebrows. I was given a brand new costume to wear and brought cups of tea, snacks and lunch in my dressing room. Continue reading

Factory Dream at The Willow Globe

Hill near Penlanole, Wales - by Faye Thomas

Hill near Penlanole, Wales - by Faye Thomas

This week I have been struggling to put it better.

We spent last weekend under a magnificent hill.
A hill that rose out of a valley like a great, green knee in a great, green bubble bath.
A hill that hung above us like a magnificent, green, full-breasted moon.

Under this hill we performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream on grass, on stone and wood, clouds of insects and stars.  Most of it in a little theatre-round made of willow that strained for the sky, growing and whispering along with us.  I am not making this up. I really don’t know where to begin.  I am struggling not to write about the battery in my car giving up on us and the four hour journey to Wales stretching to nine.
Halfords in Greenford.
That after nine hours there was this hill. Continue reading


Sports Day

Sports Day

Late last night I was sitting in the kitchen when I heard a small noise in the living room.

We have mice.  On current evidence I would say we were outnumbered by mice in our house at a ratio of about 25:1.  The other day we found one in a box. It must have accidentally slipped off the end of a shelf into an empty toy-box.  It was then caught there all night like a schoolboy in the Somme.  We found it in the morning, quivering.

Continue reading

Pressing Send

balloons_450x350-1I have new speakers on my computer.  Yesterday, when I sent an email there was a slight rustling sound from beneath the desk; like a mouse tossing a mouse-sized post-it note into a mouse-sized bin. Today, when I click send an exocet missile screams past my nose from one side of the room to the other.

I swear to you.  I duck.  It is alarming.

Continue reading

Regent’s Park

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

I have left at the interval of no less than two shows out of two shows this week.
I am reaching a point where I simply can’t make excuses for the boredom – especially in this weather.

On the weekend I went to Regent’s Park and it was just – beautiful.

It was warm as a bath and the sky was as big as London can manage and I thought of Athens which makes me think of Melbourne.
And I found a cardigan.  There was a cardigan sprawled on the ground in front of me in Regent’s Park so I picked it up and looked around and of course there are people walking off in all directions and they all have their backs to me and any one of them could be missing a cardigan, it was warm – did I say?  Which is why someone has taken their cardigan off.
I would if I was wearing one.

And I watch these people rippling out from where I am standing with this cardigan.  I am the origin of some explosion of cardigan owners.
As these particles reach a kind of critical unreachability I start pounding after one.  This is not really a conscious decision – it is a physical decision which has shot from >360° of spiraling indecision and I just know they are going to leave the park and jump in a cab before I can get to them – or I will reach them barely able to speak for running and they will look – mystified – at the cardigan.  It will be hopeless and I will look a fool – but I am running now and to stop because I am worried about looking a tit for chasing the wrong cardigan droppers would be less justifiable than it would have been before I started running.  I am now a good fifty yards from them and I imagine more than one person has noticed what I am doing so although the distance is still enough to require the best sprint I can manage it is still a sprint that is required.

Now I am about thirty yards and – look – one of the girls puts her hand to her bag, looks down and (I see this is in slow-motion) turns slowly around to look back the way she has come to see if she can see her cardigan on the ground.

I know she dropped it so far back she wouldn’t see it if it was still there – that’s assuming someone wouldn’t have taken it by now.
Regent’s Park is nice but it’s no enclave.
And here I come and I am so unsurprised to hear an American accent.
“Ohw – my – Gaaaahd – theynk – yewoo – so – MU-ITCH!”
And I can barely speak I have run so far and almost before the cardigan touches her hand I am turning, mouthing “That’s fine..” and pounding back the way I came.

To what?

To my children who have been making the most of the opportunity to show off their handstands to passers-by.  Most of whom are also American.
The world needs more handstands.

Emergent Order 1


I am thinking about Emergent Order.  I came across the term in an article about index cards.  It’s a bit complex.  I’m not there yet but today (say) my definition of Emergent Order is: a coherent system created from stuff which was never intended to go together.
Tomorrow it might be slightly different.

So for instance – do you have those days when you get constant compliments on your clothes? – the clothes which happened to be the nearest, clean clothes you could find this morning? That.  That’s Emergent Order.
You didn’t intend it but it came together.
But don’t share that with a proper scientist.
Or – hey – do – but don’t tell them I told you.

I live with three small boys and at the moment they are really into scissors.
Nothing is safe. Pyjamas.  dvd covers.  Utilities bills. Duvets.
When was the last time you cut up something for the pleasure of cutting something up?

Here comes the four-year-old fresh from nursery with his picture of fireworks.  It is fantastic – I am thinking of finding a frame – it is a monochromatic reading of the notion of fireworks – but indisputably fireworks.  Brilliant.

Half an hour later it is in small pieces, raining on the floor around the chair legs and the trains.  There you are – I wanted to put it in a frame – but for him the sensation of scissor on just slightly resistant card, thick with dried paint… come on.  Fireworks are nothing if not momentary.

It’s the same with intricate plasticine figures – here’s a three-toed sloth hanging from a finely wrought plasticine tree WITH a minute plasticine baby three-toed sloth nestling on the only slightly-bigger, three-toed Mother sloth’s belly.
Trodden into the wooden train track.
Think of it.
All those colours – mixed.
Hair.  Special K.  Yellows. Browns.
It’s a little sloth-a-cide.

Recently I blogged The Factory’s first performance of The Seagull and it was the most exciting writing task I have ever done – not the greatest piece of literature – the most exciting thing to write.  Our first Seagull was a true experiment: we really, really did not know what was going to happen nor even what should happen.
Writing it up was like freezing fireworks. An echo in amber.
I had no idea how to do it. Quote what the actors said?  List all the props? Go for detail or the general sensation of the event?
Not a clue.
So I just wrote in the way I write and hoped for the best.
As we do when we’re in it.

On the one hand there is this adult need to frame things and keep them forever and then there is also this childish joy in cutting something up regardless of its value because the scissors work. There is something in the middle there, squidged into the train track with a fossilized sloth-y smile still marked on its marbled face – that seems important to try to understand.