There But For A Lack Of Ambition Go I

Punchdrunk are brilliant. I went to see their last London show a couple of times and was blown away (in different ways) each time. I’ve even compared their style of immersive theatre to what some videogames are getting up to.

Their latest show, which I haven’t been lucky enough to get tickets for, is on at the mo. In pairs people are led on a tour across London with a story and myth unfolding around them. It’s an alternate London, a psychogeographical twist. Apparently it takes in a major London landmark, and other lesser known spots. A handful of actors move things along, but half the game is not knowing who is an actor and who isn’t. In one review the critic spent a merry few minutes chasing after a random stranger and listening in in people’s conversations hoping for clues.

For halloween two years ago Lyd did something along these lines for me. We started in Highgate cemetery and went on a sort of choose-your-own-adventure across London. Instead of actors we used our imagination – at times purely imagining ghost figures in front of us, at other times picking members of the public to follow. We both agreed it was a fun idea and, given the number of actors we know (I trained and worked as an actor for a few years, Lyd started acting training but realised it wasn’t for her, and also worked in a drama school) discussed the idea of taking it a step further. Get a few mates involved, bring a few other friends along as punters and see how it goes, maybe then get some actual paying customers to come along.

But we didn’t do anything about it. Last halloween there were quite a few events on that, for once, we spotted in time to book for them. So although the idea crossed our minds again we didn’t do anything about it. 

This year it was my turn to lead Lyd on a trip through an alternate London. I recruited a couple of friends to handwrite some notes for Lyd to find, but that’s as far as the extrapolation has gone. It was just the two of us, dashing between events and landmarks that I had tied together in an occult conspiracy. We started at a mummy unwrapping at the National Archives, looked for clues at tombs in Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls, chased a suspect actoss St James’ Park and ended up eating Elizabeth I’s mummified flesh in Kensal Green cemetery at the climax of a concert.

And I can’t help but think about the lack of ambition that means it’s still just the two of us taking part. Neither of us has much in the way of entrepreneurial drive – we’re both ideas people, and although we often follow those ideas to their immediate conclusions, that’s where we leave them. Scattered novels, workshopped play scripts, immersive tours, cabaret sets… 

A little splash of ambition and who knows. Oh well. One day. So many hurdles leapt, and so many more to go.

Still, I realised that NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and using that as a bit of inspiration got back to a novel I’ve been wrestling with (without writing anything) for a year or so. Managed a 587 word lunch break, which is ok by me.

So.

Here we go again.

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The Dresser – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 47: The Dresser

Dresser 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

It was The Day Of The Jackal last time, following on from The Duellists. Can we make it three knock-outs in a row?

The Shortlist

It’s my choice this time around. Last time I suggested we might stick with Edward Fox for a while but, in the interests of completeness, I had a look through a few different filmographies. It’s disappointing how much crossover there is between The Day of the Jackal and Run For Your Wife. I’ve seen a little bit of Run For Your Wife. I will never watch any more of it. It really is as bad as you might think, and I don’t mind a bit of whoops-where’s-my-trousers-sorry-vicar farce.

So in the end I kept coming back to Edward Fox and a few film in particular:

The Shooting Party (1985)

I really don’t know much about this, other than James Mason, John Gielgud and Edward Fox star, and it’s set during a shooting retreat just prior to the First World War. I’m thinking a more intense Downton Abbey with all the female roles expunged.

The Jokers (1967)

This is a crime caper written by Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clement, and starring Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed. Hugely tempting.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

It’s three hours long, so keeps being an almost-ran. One of these days…

The Dresser (1983)

Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay star as an aging actor and his dresser. Pretty much all set backstage during one production of Lear. It’s been on my must-watch list for years. So long in fact that I couldn’t help but pick it this time.

The Link

Edward Fox

It’s… Edward Fox. Do keep up. He had an incredible air of detached authority in The Day Of The Jackal, rumpled class in The Duellists, how will he be in The Dresser? I’m guessing louche, but we shall see.

The Dresser and me

Okay, this is one I really should have seen. I trained and worked as an actor for a few years, so should have been lapping up theatre-related films. In fact when I saw – and loved – Black Swan, one of the things I loved most about it was the realistically unglamourous way it portrayed the rehearsal/backstage process. So a film all about the backstage goings on? Surely my soya-meat and drink.

Plus, before The Dresser was a film it was a play. I’ve scoured plays for speeches and two-handers over the years, but somehow, despite knowing the setup of The Dresser, never read it.

And finally, it’s got Albert Bloody Finney in it. I need to see a lot more Finney. He’s an incredible actor, and I could watch him in Miller’s Crossing every day and not get bored. Here he is in all his glory (may spoil the finest scene if you’ve not seen it): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_le4xh-XV3c

IMDB says

An effeminate personal assistant of a deteriorating veteran actor struggles to get him through a difficult performance of King Lear. 7.7 stars

I says

Dresser 2

Crown him King of Actors right bloody now

Well that was a tour-de-force from Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. My word. They both received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and I can see why. Who won? Robert Duvall for Tender Mercies. Whatever that is. Maybe we’ll tackle it soon.

Anyway, what struck me was this quote from the director Peter Yates:

“If I can make a film which will get more people to go to the theatre, I will feel I have achieved something.”

M8DDRES EC006

I can see what he means, but in a way the film had the opposite effect on me. It put me off the theatre. And that’s not because I didn’t like the film – I loved it. But the reminder of all the sweat and tears and agony that goes into putting a show on highlighted that I’m not sure it’s worth it. For the actor. And that’s probably why I’m not still acting! It’s shown as the herculean effort that it is – heightened by the particular circumstances of Albert Finney’s Sir, and bravo for shining light on the damp, cramped, fractious experience. It’d make for an interesting double bill with Black Swan – show those two to someone who you has ambitions to perform and they’ll give it all up in heartbeat.

The other film Peter Yates directed that year? Krull.

Krull

Incidentally, I was right. Edward Fox was indeed louche as Oxenby. What a cad.

The Verdict

Stunning performances and a handy reminder for me of why I shouldn’t resume life on the stage any time soon.

Coming Attractions

Well. There’s plenty more Fox in the den, so to speak. However… We’re going to see a triple bill of Paul Verhoeven films at the cinema soon – Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers in that order. And those link to each other by shared actors. It’s like they’re crying out to be included in the CRFC. If we can get to Robocop in time…

So, as it’s Tim’s choice, he’s going to have a quick shufti to see how appealing that is…

@BornToPootle

VR and Forum Theatre

In Chekhov’s The Seagull a young, snobby playwright bemoans the old traditions of theatre. New forms, he calls out for. New forms he (spoiler) kills himself for. I think it’s time to take this naïf’s clarion cry into the videogame community.

I spoke on a previous episode of The Conversation Tree Podcast (plug cough splutter plug) about VR game The Circle and the exciting possibilities for roleplaying (in the purest sense of the genre) it presented. I’ve also written about games being more analogous to theatre than film. Now I get to combine the two topics!

I went to see a new play on Friday – Cathy, produced by Cardboard Citizens at The Pleasance (now touring). The first half of the evening was fairly standard: I sat in the audience and watched an interesting and affecting play, a sort of updated version of Cathy Come Home. It was a moving and provocative piece of work. After the interval however, there was a slightly different second half.

In fact the play had ended at the interval. The second half of the evening was thrown open to the audience to suggest different ways the main character could have behaved. This was a play about a mum and daughter (weeks away from GCSEs) being evicted and then falling through the cracks in the housing system. The challenge was thrown to the audience to try and spot the moments where Cathy could have done something different, tried another option.

Suggestions were tossed out for debate, from small delaying tactics when dealing with unruly landlords to names of charities and support groups to contact – there were a commendable number of people from said organisations in attendance. And then the extra twist. The play restarted. When an audience member had a suggestion, all they needed to do was shout ‘stop’, pop down to the stage, and take on the role of Cathy. The other actors would then react to the new direction of the scene. This isn’t something new – it’s called forum theatre – but it was my first time, despite training and working as an actor for a number of years. 

It was fascinating, and I was reminded more than once of Tim Schaeffer’s observation that writing adventure games is all about imagining the protagonist is drunk (see Shitfaced Shakespeare for a more literal translation of this on stage). Some alternatives sputtered an failed, others provided a glimmer more hope than that of the scripted drama. It was a piecemeal choose-your-own adventure. Kitchen sink drama where you could save and reload.

No one tried anything ‘dramatic’ – taking an estate agent hostage for publicity, going on a murder rampage – but that reminded me of my experience with The Circle. I was an actor playing a role. I could react how I liked and sometimes the world might react, sometimes everything would carry on just the same. Much like life.

In the brief demo of The Circle I tried at EGX I played as a trans woman recovering from a traumatic experience. I was effectively stuck in my flat in front of my computer and unable to move around. What was so exciting about that proposition wasn’t the immersive email replying, but the ability to get angry, in character, with the content of the email I was reading, and physically fling the empty bottles of beer surrounding me against the wall. In the demo that made no difference (apart from the most fundamental difference of course – my individual experience of the game), but when it’s complete it may impact on what happens later. If someone comes to check on me, the invalid, they’ll find a collection of smashed beer bottles. What will that do to their interactions with me? Or do I want to hide the evidence and collect the shards in the bin? The developer has big ideas in that direction.

So could this be a way for VR games to go? I really hope so. The games unveiled for PSVR so far all seem fairly standard. An amalgam of the usual suspects – a few Duck Hunt style target shooting titles, driving, shoot ’em up… Casual, if that’s a descriptor that suits. Isn’t this the time for role playing games to shine? True role playing, where you can try a scenario (whether it’s storming a castle or trying to claim benefits) in any way you see fit and have the immersive VR world adapt around you?

VR has yet to convert me, but if developers can harness it to bring us true roleplaying rather than a collection of reskinned novelties then maybe I’ll start to pay attention. Maybe there’ll be an upsurge in games actually about something more than instant gratification. Maybe we’ll have the new forms Konstantin raved about.

@BornToPootle