Birthday with Dad

“Hamlet”, Almeida Theatre (Andrew Scott/dir. Robert Icke)

We had tickets to Hamlet for the evening of 20 March, and early on 18 March my father died, after a heart attack six days before that he never woke up from. So I’m not really sure how much of the show felt raw and fresh because it was a really good production, although everyone says it is, so it must be at least partially that, and how much of it is because, you know, my dad had died forty hours before, pretty suddenly, and Hamlet isn’t exactly a show lacking in “sudden dead dad” emotions.

A surprisingly helpful thing about grieving in my tradition is how prescribed the activities and times are. There is an extensive framework that walks you through things: what you do (and don’t do) the first week, the first month, the first year. Each period of grieving eases you into the next one, and they don’t exactly taper off but there’s a feeling of being able to let each emotion inhabit fully in the space, giving you room to breathe it in and experience it properly, and knowing that it’s okay to do it fully because it has an end time and it’s not going to be this big forever.

Hamlet hasn’t had a proper mourning space: he’s barely processed the fact of it before his mother’s wedding celebration breaks into the space of family grief, and suddenly everyone’s going “cheer up Hamlet!” and “get over it!” and “come on, it’s only natural, everything dies! get a move on and grab a glass of champagne already!” Read more...

Birthday with Dad

All the theatre I saw in 2016, ranked

(nb: most of this was written on the train on New Year’s Eve, so “last night” = Dec 30th.)

In 2016 I saw 41 plays (and three staged readings, which were interesting but it feels unfair to put in with the rest because they’re not supposed to be fully realised pieces of theatre). Drunk Theatre stalwart Louisa and I tried to clear out the bottle-ends in the booze cabinet before the New Year, and carried out the immense task of force-ranking all our 2016 plays with Post-It notes. (for the record if you are also looking to clear out your drinks bottles, the “Monkey Gland”, a 1920s? cocktail involving grenadine and absinthe, was surprisingly all right.)

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Birthday with Dad

‘The Odyssey’ Live (Almeida)

It’s something you might do in college, if you had a certain kind of drama department, except it was with some of the best actors in the world and more people watching than just a few very patient boyfriends. The Almeida Theatre read through all of the Iliad in a day in August (starting at 10am, finishing around 1am), after which artistic director Rupert Goold presumably turned to his actors and crew and said, “Well, that was quite good, shall we do another one?”, because last week they also did all of the Odyssey in a day, livestreaming the whole thing both times so people could follow along at home.

The Iliad reading started at the British Museum, where a series of actors got up to read at a podium in the Great Court, and ended at the Almeida itself (in Islington, north London). It was fun clicking over to the livestream across the day, especially the energy pop every time a new reader took over and reminded that gosh, our actors are really good at acting! The main ones I remember are Tobias Menzies’ biceps exulting as Achilles taunted Hector; Hattie Morahan looking alarmed and tall as Odysseus tried to reason with the Greeks; and Adjoa Andoh letting her voice roll and luxuriate in Agamemnon’s persuasive list of gifts. Oh yeah, you kept going, this is why!

And the Odyssey was even more fun; instead of lots of famous good actors walking up to a podium, reading their bit, and walking off again, the production went on a trip around London. Starting on the roof of the Almeida at a sharp 9am, cameras followed actors in cabs down to the Thames, where the reading got on a riverboat (Stephen Fewell winning and holding an early MVP of the day, for flawlessly managing an interruption by an uninformed official – which also led to his winning saddest tweet), and on to the London Eye on the South Bank (for the bit with the Cyclops – geddit, geddit), onto an open-topped bus back across the city, up to Islington Town Hall, over to a building site nearby, and finally to finish at a bar on Upper Street, at an extremely enviable-looking party with most of the day’s readers and general Almeida people. Read more...

Birthday with Dad

Drunk Theatre: The Oresteia, Trafalgar Studios (Almeida)

Oresteia at the Almeida - poster

I was quite drunk the first time I ever encountered the Oresteia, Aeschylus’ family bathtub-drowning-revenge-stabbing-dynastic-betrayal-murderfest trilogy. For about ten years, every January a group of us would rent a big house in Derbyshire for a weekend and read through some plays. When we did the Oresteia, I was one of the chorus: it was the first play of the weekend, on a Friday night, and I may have wilfully misinterpreted what kind of libation, exactly, the Libation Bearers were bearing, like whether or not it was a raspberry daiquiri, and whether it was being borne to, say, Agamemnon’s grave or, for example, my mouth.

(During The Eumenides, the final play, when the chorus is the Furies, I mostly remember Athene, played by Kat, rapping her gavel very firmly and the lead Fury, played by the weekend’s organiser Catriona, repeating ‘Fury Two—‘ with the sharp weary tone of ‘wing commander, we’re trying to attack the Death Star here and you seem to be vomiting in your helmet’.) Read more...