Sheena McDonald remembers what it was like to be talked down to. and queries whether campaigns aimed at young people fall. unproductively. into that trap.
.' We all say it.
I swear I‘ll never forget what it feels like. To be . responsible. intelligent. capable— and patronised! — on the ﬂimsy. illogical grounds that I happen to be below the legal age ofconsent or responsibility or culpability or whatever it is that allows Them to crucially hinder my mature and enlightened development.
Remember? Remember pointing out that Juliet was only thirteen. actually. when she met Romeo. and she was supposed to be getting married anyway so she was quite old enough — so why shouldn't I stay out until midnight? — Susan is. so why can‘t I? — no. I don‘t want to be picked up! — it is not dangerous— there's going to be lots of us going- well. I'd rather not go at all in that case ifyou‘re going to treat me like a baby — I am not behaving like a child! — well. I can get married in a year anyway and then I can do what I like — so there!
We all grow up. inasmuch as we ever do. vowing to do better by the fifteen-year-old wiseacres who fall into our care. And yet somehow. very few of us actually hang on to any real clear perception of how it really is. ()r if we do. it turns out that things have changed since then. De facto. as cit-teenagers. we do not and cannot understand.
Somewhere. a line is drawn that separates youth from age. and it happens without you noticing. and the belated realisation that it has been crossed. like some unbalanced and premature equatorial point of no return. shocks a considerable proportion of incipient greybeards into pathological regressive behaviour. incurring the further scorn and revulsion of the mature infants below the line.
No. I am not claiming any special powers ofcommunication with the adolescent. How could I? l was raised during that extraordinary period when the facts of life were. through quaint custom and usage. taught by a playground peer. After initial disbelief. they were confirmed by someone who‘d read The Group by Mary McCarthy. or some equally helpful manual. They were then more or less ignored for a couple of years until they finally had to be confronted by a pink and squirming biology-teacher. long after even the entertainment-value ofelderly embarrassment had crossed the boredom-threshold.
And what I really learned then is
that the most dangerous and slippery substance known to civilised man is truth. And getting your hands on it is probably the best and most exhausting thing you can aspire to do. And what separates the men from the boys is the suppression of truth. When you can get away with chronic mendacity — then you're a man. my son. And then you've lost the respect ofa generation.
People are luckier today. they tell me. Nowadays. for instance. I understand that straightforward factual information on how life is recreated is the regular stuff of kindergarten song and story. in there between How to Read the Stock Market and Car-Telephone-L’sage: The Suzuki Method. Never again will a human being who has achieved double figures find herself wondering exactly how the spermatazoa manage to find their way over the bedsheet in the dark — never mind how they manage to crawl in through the tummy-button once they get there! And as to how the baby comes out of the tummy-button!
So in this blessedly enlightened time ofunbridled communication and fact-dispersal. how do we communicate the new facts of life? The old bogeys - pregnancy. censure. lysergie acid—induced brain-damage — have been augmented by a fearful new wrecking~crew which includes AIDS and hepatitis. Do we remember enough about the sophisticated operation of the sceptical young mind to target the necessary informationeffectively?
Judge for yourself. if you can. Perhaps spending £2 million on publicising the dangers ofsharing a needle and syringe in a scarey way is indeed money well spent. Perhaps inducing fear and despair in people who‘ve taken one or two steps in a dangerous direction really will dissuade them from going any further. Or perhaps not. When were you last motivated by fear and despair? Did it stop you smoking another cigarette? Did it make you leave the car at home when you knew you’d probably accept a third and a fourth pint?
Me — I'm all for positive campaigning. How about getting a Committee of 100 prominent people who use condoms to say so? Or all the stars who've been done for drink-driving to explain how they coped and whether they still do it? Doing as I say. not as I do isn‘t necessarily the best recipe for success. Remember?
Some are born Hamlet. some achieve Ramletand some have Hamletthrust uponthem. Mark Rylance falls into the lattercategory —though not unwillingly. He was appearing in a Howard Brenton play in London when director Ron Daniels came to see it. looking fora cast torAs You Like It. Daniels saw Rylance — ‘l was dressed in black. looking romantic and spouting verse’ —and decided to do Hamlet instead.
Rylance. needless to say. was pleasantly pole-axed. He last played the melancholy prince in mid-WestAmerica when he was sixteen— ‘I think my interpretation has degenerated since then!’- so being offered the partfor an eleven-weektourwith the Royal Shakespeare Company was something of a shock: ‘I must say I didn’t think. hooray. right away.’
Rylance and Daniels worked closely together on the production. which is set loosely in the 20th century in a big old manor house gradually tipping into the sea, and whichtocuses strongly on the family aspect otthe play. ‘We didn’t want it to be abstract orintellectual.’ explains Rylance. ‘We wanted to make the people real and the struggles between them real.’
Working togetheris particularly important ona production of this longa run. feels Rylance. to avoid misunderstandings and struggles between actor and director. Hetends generallyto lavouras much sharing of responsibility among the cast as possible. ‘I think it is importantto have an outside eye. butl think directors should be freed from all the other pressures and responsibilitiesthatget heaped on them.’
Rylance has spent a total time working with director Mike Allreds. who has a very open attitudeto direction. He wentwith Allredsto the National Theatre. having enjoyed working with him inthe theatre company Shared Experience. where Alfreds would direct productions without conventional strict blocking—allthe possibilities would be worked out. but nothing laid down. so the show would be different everytime. ‘The whole objective isto be absolutelyfresh each night.’ explains Rylance. ‘It is more like a sportthan anything else. in thatyou work outwhatyou wantand worktowards that within the limitations. It’s like ifyou go and see a football match and there’s a greatgoal. Well you don’twantto see the same goal nextweek— you want the same effect. achieved a differentway.’
It is an invigorating but frightening way to work: it keeps actors on theirtoes. and it rarely backfires- ‘Because you work so strongly on the inner structure otthe play it doesn’t usually go wrong— but that possibility is there. In a sense. Rylancefeels that it is this same search torlreshness and danger every night that is the most important thing he can bring to playing Hamlet—awell known part within a more conventional production. ‘lt’sthe same taskreally. You just have to clearyour mind more—there’s more danger of being dead. more danger ofgiving a presentation of the play. You have to talk directlyto the audience and try notto know what happens next— especially with some of the more famous speeches. My
task is to discover each thing new every night.‘
By the time he reaches Glasgow he will have only a couple more weeks to go of living through the play
afresh night after night. though there is talk of bringing the production back next yeartothe Barbican in London. Meanwhile Rylance will stay around in Glasgow to advise Scottish Ballet on their new production of Peter Pan-a subjecton which he is some authority. having played the partfor the RSC. his last. and somewhat less weighty. partlorthe company. It won’t be histirststayin Glasgow either. He spent a year at the Citizens’ Theatre early in his career. and in common with many actors who have worked at that theatre. waxes very nostalgic about thefamily atmosphere and friendliness there and ‘the sense of naughtiness of theatre. the sense that theatre can be subversive’. ‘I couldn't quite cope with it all atthe time.‘ he says. a little regretfully. ‘Coming straight out of RADA and being told. there’s the runway—take off.’
lsaw him there in an unforgettable performance. though. In a production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Rylance played the baby. He spent the whole production followinga woman with a small bundle in her arms. wailing in an uncannily realistic way. Reminded of it, he laughs ‘I suppose it wasn’tthal different from Hamlet really.’ (Sarah Hemming). Hamlet is at the Theatre Royal. Glasgow. See Theatre Listings.
“At the end of this year’s Elvis convention we’ll have him come on in a coffin swirling with dry ice.’ jokes Ian Mackay. organising this year’s club convention along with official British fan Julian Grant. In fact. speaking to either ofthese members of Edinburgh's Elvis Presley fan club -the Memphis Mafia quickly
2 The List 25 Nov — 8 Dee 1988