Gertrude Stein’s Dr Faustus lights the lights at last year’s Edinburgh Festival
Mark Brown finds the Citz bringing the godmother of
performance art back to life.
‘In a sense this really is the beginning of performance art,’ says Antony McDonald, director of an evening of the plays of Gertrude Stein, whose theatre work was born out of her experience of the vibrant avant garde Parisian culture in the early years of the 20th century.
A number of changes have been made to the programme as McDonald has reconsidered how best to present Stein to a public largely unfamiliar with her plays. There will be somewhere in the region of halfa dozen short plays, some as short as a page long, which are structured in a way which is entirely different to conventional ‘straight’ theatre. ‘Gertrude Stein believed a play was like a landscape,’ says McDonald. ‘You have to find your own way through these plays. They’re not divided up into characters.’
Most of the plays selected here derive from Stein’s relationship with Alice B. Toklas, and particularly front their time spent together on Majorca during World War I. ‘They‘re not plays about alienation, they’re to do with people being together,‘ says McDonald. So, for all that she was described as a ‘cubist writer’, far from being inaccessible, Stein is, he says, ‘enormous fun . . . she writes out of a kind of love of life.’
With this production the Citizens’ is certainly taking quite a courageous leap into the relative unknown. Work which is ‘interested in seeing a moment from many different sides all at the same time’ would not seem to be an immediate crowd puller. However, given that Stein’s inﬂuence over the culture of this century is so much greater than the knowledge of her work, this is a unique opportunity to put a theatrical face to her huge name.
Perhaps it’s time to take more risks in the theatre, and to take Antony McDonald’s advice: ‘People, in seeing a Gertrude Stein play, need to leave behind every preconception they ever had about what a play is.’
Plays by Gertrude Stein. C iiizens' Theatre. Glasgow, Wed 16 Nov—Sat 3 Dec.
Old pals act
Two stand-ups touring the country with solo shows have both worked with the same partner — David Baddiel. Eddie Gibb makes the comedy connection.
Frank Skinner; David Baddiel; Rob Newman. Who’s the odd man out? Easy, it’s David Baddiel of course, the speccy one who isn ’t currently slogging round the provincial theatre circuit.
Or maybe it’s Rob, sorry Robert, Newman, the only one to publish a novel this year — Dependence Day — which was surprisingly well reviewed given the critical tanking he came to expect as one half of Newman and Baddiel. Ah, Newman and Baddiel — now we’re getting to it. Claim your prize if you said Frank Skinner was the odd one out — he’s never played Wembley.
Rob and David did, taking the comedy-as-new-rock ’n’ roll circus to
its absurdist conclusion, then promptly
announced the end of their professional partnership. The pair’s personal relationship was already well known to be somewhat rocky, so that was pretty much the end of Newman and Baddiel as anything other than a Christmas video.
Baddiel swiftly signed to play Fantasy
' Football League with his real-life
Frank Skinner: formerly an eight-gigs- a-week man
ﬂatmate Skinner. which kicks off for a new season shortly. Together they’ve worked up a surprisingly funny show based on the simple notion of watching two blokes swigging Carling and shouting at the football ontelly. You don’t need to know they share a flat, but it does help reinforce the camaraderie of this New Lad lark.
.Whereas Newman and Baddiel were
something of a non-double act, coming together only occasionally to do the ‘History Today’ sketches, Skinner and Baddiel look totally at ease together. But surely things can’t be that funny round Frank ‘n’ Dave’s?
‘There’s a bit of a double bluffon this,’ says Skinner, ‘because people think two comedians living together —
will be quite solemn and it's quite a normal household. In fact we seem to spend most of the time falling around laughing.’
Newman, the introspective loner, seems more comfortable too: lot just happy performing on my own.’ he says. ‘David works very well with another person and I’m made to work on my own really. which isjust as well because no one would work with me.
‘The only plan I’ve ever had in my whole life is just to write books. If I could write books and do stand-up I’d be very happy indeed. I don’t like doing telly much because there’s no spontaneity.’
Both Skinner and Newman are now on tour doing straight stand—up. no chaser. ‘I had to think of so many characters for the book that I think I’m a bit charactered out,’ says Newman. ‘You can’t really top Wembley for the lights and costumes and props so I’m going to a do a very classic, balls-to- the-wall. single spot. microphone stand, full-on stand-up.’
At one time Skinner was an honest Midlands comic, an eight-gigs-a-weck man, until the telly took over. During a week-long stint at Edinburgh over the summer, when he came on saying. ‘I’ve already sold out the whole run so I can do anything I like’, Skinner showed he could still conjure a laugh from nothing.
‘I went up there basically to get match
lit again because over the last year I did about ﬁve gigs,’ he says, ever the one for a football analogy. Robert Newman. Royal Concert Hall. Glasgow. Friday ll November; Frank Skinner. City Hall, Glasgow, 7i!(’.\‘(/(l_\' 15 November:
mm- Tall stories
Siobhan Davies is a woman of stature. Both physically - she stands six foot nothing in her stocking feet - and professionally, where her long career as a choreographer has most recently earned her the dance equivalent of the Booker prize: The Laurence Olivier prize for Outstanding Achievement in Dance (1993).
Prizes for dance though, do not generate quite the same levels of public interest as do similar prizes for books or films and though there was some media interest at the time of the award, Davies has remained, as always, quietly successful. The trouble is of course, that there is not much for the media to get their teeth into: Davies has produced an unbelievably long list of dances since the first piece she created for LODT back in 1972, all of them very beautiful, but none of them has ever shocked, or stunned the world. Sensation-seeking media hacks (like myself) want stories. We want bad' boys of dance - a la Michael Clark; we want showmen of the stage - a la Mark Morris; we want blinding flashes of genius and innovation that lump up and slap us in the face.
lot so Davies. if she’s rocked the dance boat it’s been gently. When
Siobhan Davies: ‘l’m a slow builder.’
physical theatre was shouting and screaming and kicking its heels, Davies was just getting on with it. ‘l’m a worker,’ she says. ‘And a slow builder.’ What she builds are calm, measured blocks of movement, laced with emotion, that some find remote and introspective, others haunting and hypnotic.
Wanting to Tell Stories, the first piece Edinburgh audiences will see, taps right into that old chesnut, the
‘abstract versus figurative’ debate. In other words, do you like stories in your dance or not? Davies’s work is often referred to as abstract. She dislikes the term, feeling we’ve come to think of it as meaning nothing, or in dance terms, nothing but movement. Wanting to Tell Stories is like the definitive Davies statement on the idea that dance can speak volumes about human experience, without using actual storylines, and that it’s very good at expressing those things we can’t quite put into words. ‘I don’t feel that i don’t tell stories,’ she comments. ‘Storytelling can be done in many different ways.’
The Glass Blew In is set to the sounds of nine clarinets arranged by hotshot composer Gavin Bryars. And the movement? Well it’s kind of hard to put into words . . . (Ellie Carr)
Siobhan Davies Company, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 8 Nov, 7.30pm.
53 The List4—i7 November 1994