Three Sisters, Hamlet, & Roy

When I was about fourteen or fifteen I saw an amateur production of Three Sisters at one of my local theatres. I knew nothing about Chekhov or the play, but I was enraptured from the first scene. This was partly to do with the bustling dresses and the audacious way in which one of the sisters, Masha, whistled in a most unladylike manner (which reminded me gleefully of Jo in Little Women), but it was mostly to do with the performance of a man named Roy Foster, who had an altogether different air about him than the others. Like for him there was no script, no process, but merely a truth he was choosing to reveal to you that night. Utterly natural and with such quiet authority you would do anything he said, even if it meant taking off your shoes and running over fields of just-ploughed corn.

A couple of years later, while studying A Level Theatre Studies, with the memory of Three Sisters still strong, I started devouring Chekhov, wanting to soak it all in and learn from it. I’d spend my free periods and lunchtimes in the school library reading all the playscripts they had, feeling like those words were the best thing I could ever do with my time – a feeling I still get when I see or read plays by great writers; that it’s an investment for my soul. I went to see The Cherry Orchard, cried. Went to see Uncle Vanya. Wept. The longing dark heart of Chekhov’s plays spoke to some latent part of me then as a simple teenager, which speak to me even more now that – doubled in age – I am far less simple. I write plays, run a theatre company, feel passionate about theatre because of all the fire that was stoked up in me during that period of my life. It shaped me.

The last play I saw Roy in was about three or four years ago. He played the ghost of Hamlet’s father. My ex boyfriend/dear friend George played a brilliant Hamlet, and I watched them both in my favourite play that brims with themes close to my heart. (Not so much ghosts and suicide and love for a dead father, but Danish military politics, obviously.) I thought how strange it was that an old face and a new love had come together in something that was so important to me.

It was an odd night. I had stupidly chosen to read my father’s last texts written in the last few days before he died on his old Nokia, which I fired up in the pub down the road over a gin (a bloody big one) before rushing down to watch Hamlet. A strange decision on my part; but something I couldn’t have delayed. Private reasons, but it was a strange night to watch a play about dead fathers & the effects they have upon us. Especially as the modern production made use of mobile phones. It rang with a new and searing relevance for me; almost too much to watch. I later wrote a bit in my book about it. If Roy, if George, had been lesser actors the pertinent meanings in the text would have been lost to my disgust; turned me all hand-wringing distraught Ophelia at what they’d done to ‘my play’. But they were brilliant.

Sometimes Shakespeare is like watching a stained glass window light up at sunrise. It starts dark and obscure and takes a while but god it’s worth it. When you become familiar with a play that’s when it really illuminates. I’ve seen a lot of Hamlets, and seeing Roy in it almost seemed somehow inevitable. He’d been there at the start of my classical theatre experience, half my life ago when he introduced me to Chekhov, and here he was again years later, as assured and accomplished as any actor on a professional stage.

Roy passed away a couple of weeks ago. I know many dear friends who are deeply affected by it, and who will miss him greatly. I’m sure there are those who cannot imagine life continuing in quite the same way without him. They knew him far better than I did, so this column isn’t so much a tribute to a wonderful man I wasn’t honoured enough to know that well personally.

However it is a respectful tip of a Chekhovian hat to a fine actor who brought words alive that stayed with me, that lit up a path, and a low curtsey to the ways in which people can make a mark on your lives without their ever knowing.

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Not Just Any ‘Olanus – Coriolanus, Donmar Style

It was approximately five seconds into the hot topless actor’s onstage shower scene that I got my mojo back. It had been missing. I only realised it had been missing about six seconds into the hot topless actor’s onstage shower scene. (I actually think my mojo resurfaced somewhere during the sword fight just before but it wanted to make sure it was worth sticking around. The shower scene did it.) By the time the hot dude stopped having a wash, I had realised that I’d been in a veritable coma til that night.

Like a lot of people, my mojo had been kiboshed by the dreary season, the new year doldrums, the rain, the ‘what the hell am I doing with my life’ mini breakdown I’d been pondering having once the general malaise had lifted.

Who knew it just took a critically-acclaimed actor in greasepaint shaking off gelatine blood under a ruddy big tap in one of London’s most respected theatres?

(The actor has a name of course – he’s not meat in a wig. Tom Hiddleston. He’s done some stuff. People quite like him. I like him. He’s clearly been classically trained in washing and fighting. What’s not to like.)

So there I was. Coriolanus. Shakespeare. The Donmar Warehouse, Covent Garden. Theatrical Mecca and Mojo Restorative. The play was the talk of the town, not least because it had wowed audiences in Odeons around the country as part of NT Live. I was a lucky girl to get tickets.

As I left the box office, waving my ticket of privilege while the rest of London brayed outside, I could hear someone at the counter flatly refusing a woman requesting tickets. She wouldn’t believe him that there were none. Maybe she was Trevor Nunn’s auntie or something and was used to a special throne being wheeled out. As I wandered off to take my seat, I could hear him almost shouting in her face. “NO – I SAID WE DON’T HAVE ANY TICKETS AT ALL.” I don’t mind admitting it made me feel better about myself, my life, and the fact I had a seat and the posh lady didn’t. Maybe that’s when my mojo started stirring. Vive la revolution, dahling.

I don’t normally respond to the arcs and indents of the physique. If a chap flexes in front of me he is much more likely to get a yawn than a giggle, but what with this being Theatre I was creatively disposed – nay, obliged – to wolf-whistle as loudly as I could. I held back. Because it was Shakespeare. Everyone knows Shakespeare is very, very serious. Unless everyone gets a funny bit all at once, and then it’s ok to laugh – but it has to be with an air of deep intellectual understanding or you just look like a dog poo in clothes.

I didn’t know much about Coriolanus. I once saw an ‘adult adaptation’ languishing on a video shop shelf whose capitalisation of the last four letters of the title left me deeply doubtful that it had any blank verse in it at all. From my general Shakespeare knowledge I knew it had: some Romans, some fighting, and some squirty blood-jam effects like everyone onstage is a doomed doughnut. I’d never been desperate to see it. I like a bit more fairies kissing and stuff, or at least some hey nonny-nonnying before a nice quiet suicide. Not fake swords and allusions to bum. But Coriolanus had me wanting to charge the streets of the west-end looking for a (very artistic) fight.

I talk about the fit bloke (/technically brilliant demi-god of the modern stage) carrying out his post-battle ablutions like I’m some kind of knee-rubbing hot-flusher, but it’s all in jest. Mostly. I was naturally more enthralled by the dead good words that were written thousands of years ago when everyone had mules for tea and wooden teeth and stuff; I love the poetry and power of Shakespeare. But mostly I felt myself caught up in the magic of it; the elements of theatre that fuse together to leave you tipped forward in your seat, your mouth slightly open, your breath stoppered, and the nape of your neck just that little bit chilled. Enchantment that you simply do not feel in your normal waking-walking-talking life.

At the end, as the audience filed out I turned to my friends and saw we all had the same ‘silent wow’ faces on. We had that priceless moment that can be had in the darkness of a theatre before you emerge into the light and try and find words for what you’ve just seen.

The next day I woke and felt different. Feisty. Geared up. Like I could have taken on whole legions of oiled centurions with my breakfast banana. I whipped through my morning tasks, did a bunch of stuff I didn’t even know needed doing, FEISTILY. I whipped around with that bit of shining, almost inhuman energy we all got to take home in a lovely theatre doggy bag. Art had fixed me.

And thus, verily, forsooth, was my mojo reinstated. Adieu.

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Sick – or – What Happens When A Columnist Ignores her Editor’s Offer of a Week Off

There’s no avoiding it. Every now and then you have to stop pretending that you’re not completely disgusting. You get ill; you have to be sick. You have to give in to the oesophageal constrictions of doom, walk unnaturally quickly like you’re in a silent movie, slam a door, do your business, then whimper gratefully that you made it to the appropriate room. Curl on the floor like a baby with the intolerable addition of the sense of indignity in it all.

Last week I wrote about how wonderful humans are for sharing stuff. The wonder of the internet linking us all up, joining us together. All that nice ‘aren’t people great’ sort of stuff.

Last week’s me knew nothing. Last week’s me was a putz. Sharing. Sharing is what idiots do. Sharing is the act of the profane. The warped outflingings of the weak.

What on earth do we think we’re doing, kissing and shaking hands and sneezing in the same room as each other. That’s how all the gross stuff happens – wafting around in groups, being all kinds of disgusting together, rubbing up against each other, carelessly spewing germs onto each other, fraternising our cells in the incessant dirty recycling of spores. Sharing.

Humans are disgusting. Life is disgusting.

I think I got this bug from my seven year old nephew, who is almost never disgusting so I forgive him, but I can’t be sure. Apparently the whole town has got it anyway, though I don’t see the whole town holding its hair out of the bowl in a ponytail of gloom. My bathroom’s too small to accommodate them all I suppose, and people feel compelled to use their own. I cast my mind back to that man in the shop who thrust some dirty change in a dirty manner at me. It must have been him, the swine. My nephew’s too pretty to make me sick. He’s got freckles of angel dust and hair made out of bits that fell off the sun and shit.

Thank god germs are invisible. We’d all be running around hollering and waving our arms in the air like loonies caught in a twister of bees if we could see the things that might fell us to our beds at any time. Not that bed’s the right place for this one. Not if you’ve got good sheets.

I knew I was going to be struck down because I couldn’t do tea this morning. That’s how you know you’re sick – if you can’t do the most normal things like drink your goddamn tea, you’ve got nothing.

And then – this. The Great Purge of 2014 as it shall be known henceforth in my historical scrolls.

There’s a moment of revelatory candour after you’ve been sick. The knowledge you have sunk to a nadir of nastiness but that it’s only upwards from there; a kind of rebirth, rejuvenation, and the strange liberation that comes from knowing you’re no better than a hippo sluicing itself in it’s own juices. Not really. There’s a certain relief to be found in that. We’re all as disgusting as each other because our bodies are all the same, give or take a few bits, and most of us haven’t got a clue what’s going on in those slurpy sacks of mess and wonder and woe. Our own internal mysteries. Because let’s be honest – sometimes when your gut rumbles, you can never be entirely sure that a little critter hasn’t crawled in and taken up in the warm nook between kidney and spleen, can you? Anything could be going on in there. We’ve got holes everywhere. Stuff can get in. Remember Inner Space? Not just a classic 80s kid’s movie about a little dude poking around a much bigger dude’s guts – but an existential study of the utter chaos of being a human lumbered with a vessel doomed to an inglorious yucky confusing inconvenient stupid death. They didn’t put that in the blurb. It was just sub-plot. It’s the sub-plot to everything. There was no sequel to that film, you know. Or The Goonies. Or Labyrinth. Or Space Camp. Or Flight of the Navigator. Or Batteries Not Included. Cocoon got a second bash though, didn’t it. And The Never-ending Story I think, but I think they felt a bit obliged because of the title.

Anyway. What?

Oh yes. Ugh.

I’m dreaming of the last lull. The little spot of dazed sitting you do after the last purge before you suddenly get up right as rain and eat a multi-pack of Hula Hoops just to remind yourself you’re alive.

I’m just going to watch The Goonies one last time. And then die.

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Dear Axl Rose

Dear Axl Rose,

Hullo!

I’ve never written to a rock star before. I feel obliged to come clean straight away and say that the closest I’ve ever got to being a fan is liking some boys who wore your T-shirts in the early 90s. I did however think the guns with the roses emblem was very evocative and pleasingly apt (Guns & Roses – nifty – I get it) – but then I listened to Julian Lennon’s Saltwater non-stop for about a year around the same time so I’m sure you’re not hugely desperate for my approval.

Anyway.

I just wanted to say hi, and to tell you something. For over a year and a half, every morning as I squint at my phone while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, I see that my column has been read in different countries across the world, and that some of the more exotic hits have come from people searching for you, Axl Rose. Here’s why.

I once wrote a column about being stressed, and my friend telling me it wasn’t worth it; they quoted something you had said – “I don’t worry coz worry’s a waste of my time”. I thought it was a good quote, even if it was from a song about being smacked off your tits on heroin. It actually stopped me worrying for a bit. It had a nice husky Jack Daniels air of authority about it. I listened. Now, when I feel a little weed of worry growing up my leg, I think of your simple rocker’s wisdom and try and ‘rock up’, as it were, and sort myself out.

Because of you, my friend quoting you, and me writing that column, every day I have a trickle of people that find their way to me as a result of typing your name. They read the column of an unknown British girl because they like a cool American icon. They’re probably looking for tour dates or what the hell it was you were up to with that snake in a Kentucky motel, but something prompts them to click on my little site. They probably think I’m a nerd and wonder what I’ve got to say about anything cool like Rock, and they would be right – I am a mere recycler of your lore, and a not very faithful adapter – and afterwards they’re probably very disappointed and click away again tutting – but the interesting thing is that they find me at all.

The internet’s weird isn’t it, Axl Rose? Like for instance, when I decided to write this column I thought I’d look you up. Three seconds later I was reading about your life – about your upbringing, about your Dad, about your success, lulls, and crazy loves. The internet, though it spouts a lot of tripe, also makes us all strangely knowable, across any distance. It shrinks the differences in our lives, makes it possible to be friends with people you’ll never meet, and makes lonely people less daunted by their isolation.

I’ve always liked that ‘six degrees of separation’ theory – that we are never further from anyone than six people. We all link up. No matter how big and bonkers the world gets we’re never far away from each other. You’re with me every morning and we’ve never met – and it wouldn’t be impossible, if you were ever googling something, for you to stumble across me too. That’s pretty cool. It may not be true serendipitous randomness – it may be more to do with search terms and web optimisation and the maths of hits and how far people can be bothered to scroll through the engine’s listings before they find you – but it makes the world seem less big and scary to think of the little unimportant things that can keep us together, no matter who or where we are. S’nice.

Anyhoo, I’ve taken up too much of your imaginary time. You’re probably playing a piano in scuba gear at the bottom of your swimming pool in Malibu. But before I go, I’d like to also take the opportunity to apologise for my karaoke reign of terror a few years back, when – after a lifetime of being too afraid to sing in public, under the influence of sake in Tokyo – I discovered an operatic rendering of Sweet Child o’ Mine that got me laughs. It became my go-to song because I knew I’d get punched less than if I cracked out the Lisa Loeb.
I really hope you’re not psychically linked to your music every time someone ruins it. That would suck.

Thanks for listening, Axl Rose. I would totally give you the universal hand signal for Rock right now if my fingers bent that way without the other hand helping them.

Peace out. (Do you rockers say that or is that just hippies?)

Your secret friend in England,
Sadie Hasler
Columnist/Dog-owner/Karaoke Ruiner of Your Biggest Hit.
(Sorry. But those high notes are asking for it.)

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