Tuesday, March 12, 2013
great expectations, and the field and the forest, and a London bus
When the curtain came down at the end of the show the other night there was this deep moment of silence.
As if the whole audience had been tterly drawn into the story, and had completely identified themselves with Pip and Estella and Mr. Jaggers and Abel Magwitch and Miss Havisham’s desperate hungry sadness; as if they had been so powerfully drawn into Dickens’ amazing world they were unwilling to return to the so called “real” life outside the theatre.
And then the cheers began.
They were lovely, of course, but what really mattered far more, as it always does, was the silence.
I don’t really understand what happened then, and I don’t want to make grandiose claims for it, but I sense it really matters.
It was as if, just briefly, we had all become more than the isolated, helpless and dehumanised individuals of the late capitalist world. It would be nice to think it had something to do with Estella’s lines:
Oh, Pip, we have been bent and broken by suffering
All of us bent and broken.
Have we been twisted into a better shape?
And something, in the end, to do with a shared sense of compassion.
The night before I had been to the Ovalhouse to see Chris Goode’s The Field and the Forest.
I was feeling a bit tense when I arrived and I’d sat down at a table in the bar with an angry man with a red nose and a bottle of Guinness talking loudly and resentfully into his mobile phone and I really, really did not want to be there.
But when I got into the theatre space there was something about it that made me feel better at once. It had been made into somewhere very beautiful in a simple kind of way, as if it had been cared for, and it had become somewhere where we could all be safe together.
And then there was the cat. He was very handsome and golden and not a bit put out. Just being himself.
I can’t call what happened a play, really, because it wasn’t one, it reminded me a bit of my Leave To Remain or my Jesus Queen Of Heaven, and that was probably one reason why I warmed to it. It is nice to know you’re not the only one.
The event, then, was about Shakespeare, mostly, and the word “O”.
O for a muse of fire
Almost certainly the first words spoken on the stage of the Globe theatre, that “Wooden O”, and all about longing.
And what do we want?
“Want doesn’t get” was what I was taught and I still so often see parents denying their children what they are so clearly and strongly and reasonably asking for and then, with a self-righteous air, punishing them for wanting it.
And of course our world is very good at making us think we want all kinds of things that on a deep level are no use to us at all...
So to be invited about our true wants is a subversive kind of thing, somehow, and dear Chris had us all thinking about it together in his very gentle, and very tender, and very playful way.
Him and an exceptionally beautiful and gifted young man whose name I wish I could remember because he gave me such pleasure in his performing and his being naked for quite a bit of the time.
Not to mention becoming Miranda and Cordelia in an utterly unexpected and beautiful way.
And at the end of it all I didn’t know how much time had passed, I had gone into cat time, perhaps; but I knew I didn’t want it to end.
It was such a pleasure being in this room, together, thinking about these things. It was a silent moment outside time, just like the silent moment at the end of Great Expectations.
Even though we got to it by a completely different journey.
And then there was the moment on the bus.
In Edinburgh, passengers all queue up to get on the bus, and the buses all queue up to pick up at the stops and you have to let everyone off before you can get on.
And as you get off you walk past the driver and you can say “Thank you”, and most people do, and as you get on you have to catch the driver’s eye to get your ticket and you can say “hello” and it is all very civilised.
But also very slow. There are often bus jams at the busier bust stops and it’s easy to understand how you can’t really do that in a bigger city.
And sure enough in London it’s every person and every bus for themselves and no-one ever waits for anyone else.
So there I was at a Brixton bus stop 8.15 in the morning, with my suitcase, off to catch my train home. A bus had just gone by so, unusually, there was only one other person waiting. She was a youngish woman with a pleasant open face and really lovely green boots and we’d just clocked each other when the bus came. There was a crowd by this time, and the bus happened to stop just beside me.
As the door opened, I had a grandmother moment: as an older woman at a bus stop with a case who wasn’t going to give her ground. This is not an easy place for me to be and I am just going to take my time thank you very much.
And say hello to the bus driver.
So I did all that, and was vaguely aware of someone pushing past me up the stairs as I took my place in that particular hell of crowded public transport: the place where we are all jammed up close together and yet all alone.
Something very lovely was happening in the seat beside where I was standing: a young girl with her mother was slowly, patiently and proudly practicing her reading ready for school.
We were getting closer to the bus stop when all of a sudden the young woman re-appeared, with her open face and lovely green boots, and she caught my eye and said she was sorry she’d pushed past me, she knew she shouldn’t have done it but she’d just missed her bus and she was worried about it.
And my heart went out to her.
So we started to talk, and a ripple of human energy started to spread through the bus, and you could see the people nearby waking from their evil dream
O for a muse of fire
And suddenly she saw her bus, we had caught it up, and would the driver be able to open the doors in time, and we were all in this moment together.
The doors opened and she rushed off and we were all wishing her well and someone else was kind to me and gave me directions I didn’t need but I still felt so grateful and I was thinking of dreams.
In our dream group, our teacher, Winifred Rushforth, would say that if anyone dreamed about a bus it was about the collective experience.
It’s from the latin: it means every one.
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