Tuesday, October 12, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #11 Hampstead Theatre

"So you use the tube a lot?" a blonde-haired lady asks as we stand wedged in the tin which is masquarading as a rush-hour tube train.

Firstly - yes, we're having a conversation between strangers on a tube during rush hour. Neither of us are (to my knowledge) drunk. What we both are, however, is from the North. Where people talk to each other on public transport. I know - odd isn't it?

Secondly - I have perfected my outward travelling-like-tinned-sardines nonchalance to such a degree that I am mistaken for an expert in these matters. The truth is really: I have spent more time on the tube in the last six weeks than I have at any other point during my London residency. But that requires a lot more explaining than is possible on a Metropolitan train hurtling towards Kings Cross.

[This is where I add: I should not have been using the Met line but, obviously, my old friend the Jubilee line was part suspended. I'm thinking it's not going to work out between the two of us.]

"I live in South East London where there aren't really any tube lines so not all the time. Maybe once a week or so..."

And, given the man behind me is currently in the sort of proximity to me that would normally require him to at least have supplied me with a bottle of wine, I don't scream out that the tube makes me die a little inside.

But welcome to the 52:52 version of Corinne, fooling people who don't read her blog that she doesn't care about using the tube since 2010.

What I do care about is stepping out of Finchley Road tube station to discover I have no 3G. And, obviously, BT Openzone says it's there but if it is it's being powered by a small gerbil and thus is of no use to me. And since I've got all iPhone-smug I've stopped carrying my A-Z book in my handbag for situations like this.

I have no idea where I'm going.

Which is worse than when I got lost going to Venue 5 because at least in that case I knew where the British Library was. I don't know where anything in Camden is.

At the point where I am about to concede that the gerbil isn't peddling fast enough and I might have to make like a tourist and ask someone, my 3G flickers into life and I am so happy that if there was an Orange representative around I'd kiss them before I punched them in the face.

Just to make this bit all the more ridiculous it turns out that had I peered right and squinted my eyes I'd probably have been able to see the lights from Swiss Cottage tube station (from where I know my way to Hampstead Theatre). Technology has robbed me of any remaining common sense that I possessed.

What technology has give me, however, is free wine. For I'm at Hampstead Theatre because it's a special "New Media" night and in their wisdom Hampstead are plying theatre bloggers with free alcohol. If they'd thrown in some cake they'd have had me signed up to the building for life.

In all seriousness though, having a pro-active new media evening filled me with a little bit of joy. I'm not going to re-hash why organisations should value theatre blogging (because I said it over the course of hundreds of words in my "paean to the online theatre community"*), and I'm not saying that value should necessarily be shown in wine and theatre programmes (one of the unexpected outcomes of 52:52 thus far is that I've felt very valued by a number of venues and this is the first time anyone has proffered a pre-show free drink). But if I were working in a PR department of a theatre I'd be inviting theatre bloggers along (or at least giving them some sort of a deal) on Monday nights (who goes to the theatre on a Monday night, after all? Hardened theatre-nuts and pretty much no one else, that's who).

But back to Hampstead. I know we could have the "is this a Fringe venue?" conversation right here but I refer you once again back to the rules of 52:52, for it is firmly listed under "Major Fringe venues" in my dog-earred non-virtual Theatregoers' Handbook. We'll come back to it, undoubtedly, when I write a ten thousand word essay on what "fringe" might be (don't all shout for joy at once). What the Hampstead clearly is, however, is a new writing venue. Its niche (yes, that word again!) has become a little less clear in recent years - by which it isn't filled with the new-writing/ now-writing urgency of the Royal Court or Theatre503 or (even) The Tricycle. And - this is an admission that probably shames me as much as the Hampstead - I've never previously felt the need to drag myself on to the tube to visit. Hampstead however have a new Artistic Director at the helm (Ed Hall, who directed a version of The Winter's Tale that remains my definitive version) and a programme which has mutiple things in it that I would be willing to get on a tube for (that's praise if ever there was praise).

Which is all good and exciting and I'm happy with my wine and the building is lovely and interesting in a modern-you're-going-into-a-spaceship type way. And Shelagh Stephenson's Enlightenment has a quote from Tom Stoppard's Hapgood in the programme.

Now - let me through my bias out here (once more). I am a science-play semi-obsessive. More even than that I remain thrilled (if duly mystified) by Quantum theory. So when a play's programme starts talking about chaos theory - I'm in.

Adam has gone missing during his gap year, his parents wait not knowing if he's alive or dead**. Then, without warning, they recieve a call to say that he's alive. All is not, however, how it seems.

Even the most rudimentary knowledge of the mechanics of script writing brings you into contact with the idea of the starting point of your play being an "inciting incident" which changes something for the characters and thus causes your play to happen. The inciting incident in Enlightenment happens ten seconds before the interval. Thus what should have been a taut-one-act-psychological-thriller turns into a baggy quasi-mystery which throws up lots of clever ideas but never seems to embody any of them.

What the most successful plays about science do is, in their very structure, become a metaphor for the science they're exploring. One of the many joys of Complicite's A Disappearing Number is that its fractured timeline and competing relationships become a dynamic rendering of the maths its seeks to illuminate. Quantum theory seems particularly well suited to mysteries, Stoppard's Hapgood takes up espionage whilst Unlimited's superb Tangle is, at its heart, a dectective story. Enlightenment's failure to commit to a form leaves it wanting, with plenty of nice lines that enlighten little. Indeed Stephenson's inability to fuse the ideas within the play means that characters spend large amounts of time telling rather than showing. Which perspective is the right one? How does one tiny event lead to a bigger, seemingly unconnected, event? What connects East and West? What is responsibility? For all the talking, I don't know that Enlightenment truly has anything original to say about any of it, least of all about quantum theory.

Francis O'Connor's design and Edward Hall's direction gives the production a nicely disconcerting, slightly clinical feel - though I'm not convinced that the coldness it generates helps what Stephenson's text actually is as opposed to what it aspires to be.

*I'm quoting The Guardian there. Because it's not old yet.

** Or, if Stephenson had thought to engage more completely, he is both alive and dead. That's one for the fans of Schrodinger's cat.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Enlightenment by Shelagh Stephenson

Type of space: Two level amphi-theatre style auditorium, plus studio space.

Type of productions:New writing, in house productions.

Nearest Station: Opposite Swiss Cottage if the Jubilee Line happens to be working. Down the road from Finchley Road if not.

Seating: Individual seats (allocated), with good padding and leg room. Good rake.

Condition of toilets: Modern and plentiful.

Bar produce: Bar already busy and full by time I arrived just before 7.00pm, so if you want a table go early.

Other comments: Seriously, good call on the blogging thing.

1 comment:

Swollen Foot said...

I can't believe you don't have comments on your entries! I just found your blog through this site http://www.ayoungertheatre.com/theatre-blogs-recommendations-theatrebloggingweek/. I'm new to the theatre-blogging world and had no idea it was so big and diverse! I honestly thought I'd find one or two blogs and that's it. I'm pleasantly surprised to find likeminded people out there. :)
ps. i'm a southerner and i talk to people on public transport... i would probably love it up north! haha.