. I prevrew
Theatre so often ignores the true culture of working-class people, so will Naomi Wallace’s THE TRESTLE AT POPE LICK CREEK bring new voices to our stages?
tit/mes. Steve Cramer
OK. so what taboos do we have left in the theatre'.’ Over the last few years we‘ve seen incest. heroin addiction. and sexual abuse in abundance. What’s the thing we still can‘t discuss in a liberal. middle—class context'.’ The obvious omission is working—class life. Of course. it‘s OK to have working- class characters on stage. as long as they‘re rendered appropriately grotesque. displaying their vices in sufficient quantities to distance audiences from the economics lying at the heart of their oppression. The other approach is exemplified by enjoyable shows such as The Steam/e. which presents its working folk as cute and pinch-on—the-cheek lovable. Willy Rttssell and .lolm (iodber are also notable for this sort of populism. The genre is
admirable in many respects. bttt is it about the lives of
its characters or what audiences seek to believe about ‘the other"?
Naomi Wallace. a cool and articulate theatre mind. quite the opposite. in the flesh of the frothy cappttcino perched in front of her. looks set to challenge all the comfortable stereotypes underlying the traditional representation of working-class people as a kind of freak show for the middle The Kentucky-born writer‘s first major production in Scotland. iii/1U Ilil't’ﬁllt' .‘Tl l’u/tt' Lick ('reek. examines a real event of the 7()s in which a succession of youths were killed attempting to outrun a train on a trestle bridge near a small town not far from Wallace's birthplace. Instead of portraying the youthful lovers at the centre as studies in middle-class
neurosis. Wallace chooses to see the source of their
tragedy as being an economically broken working- class white community. Resetting the story‘s period to the economically deprived 30s. she creates historical parallels with our own time.
‘l wanted to look at these young people‘s story in terms of the community.‘ she says. ‘What our culture offers tts is important to the people we become. Whether it offers tts jobs. for example. is important to the kind of people we are. It wasn‘t rich kids waiting for their tt'tist funds to come in that were running that train. it was kids who only had the present. and not much future.'
This kind of talk is bound to embarrass a middle— class audience. Though deep down we might
64 THE “ST 15 Feb—l Mar 2001
'People are taught not to ask "How did the system fail me?" but, "How did I fail myself?“
A new angle on class issues
acknowledge the truth of the observation. we‘d all rather she went on to talk about other people's neuroses. not our own.
But this young writer is a determined iconoclast. clearly more interested in discomforting our assumptions than the old-fashioned post-modernists who have been hanging on deeply unshockingly for 30 years about atomised societies and dysfunctional individuals within families.
contemporary American drama. we might. if we aren't hung up about it. find wince- provoking parallels to our own. ‘lt‘s often about the family.’ she says. ‘There's nothing historical or ideological or about what class might mean. It‘s all about how “mum did that to dad who did this to uncle. and I'm in denial". It's such safe territory. The family in this play are supportive and loving. They're being destroyed by an economic structure.‘
Again. in her comments on her native cultural structure. we might also find chimes within our own. ‘The American Dream is so insidious because people are taught not to ask. "How did the system fail me?" but. “How did I fail myself?" So it's regarded as rude to talk about class in America: the culture says we‘re classless. but l don‘t know that the poor. who are a tremendous majority. would agree with that.‘
So you've done all those supposedly taboo- breaking shows at the theatre. But can you live with the final taboo“?
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 20 Feb—Sun 18 Mar in rep with Heritage.
When Wallace speaks of
Stage whispers Re: Treading the boards
CONNELL MORRISON, RECENTLY of the National Theatre, Judith Doherty and Ben Harrison of Grid Iron, and award-winning playwright Zinnie Harris, are but four recent contributors to FONTS (formerly Febfest), the student and new theatre festival about to launch once again in Edinburgh on Monday 26 February. The event's long tradition of signalling promising careers in the theatre creates new interest each year. This year's programme will incorporate four new plays to be performed at the Netherbow, and seven at the Bedlam, with other events including a playwriting workshop with Zinnie Harris and a session of stand-up with the lmproverts. Events run until Saturday 3 March, with tickets from £2 to £3.50. You can get further details of events from the box offices of the Netherbow (0131 556 2467/9579) and the Bedlam (0131 225 9893). So if you fancy some low-priced future talent spotting, see if you can get along to a performance or two.
AS IF ONE FESTIVAL of new theatre wasn't enough, there’s also a programme of new writing to be launrhed at Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon Shruggrng off the financial maelstrom that recently engulfed the organisation, the (Ompany has continued llS planned programme, beginning wrth American writer Peter Morris’s A 8. R a satire of the consumer Culture in the record Industry, ‘.‘.’illCil runs untrl Saturday 17 February Whispers saw this yOung man's The Square Root 0! Minus One at the Eugene O'Neill centre in Connecticut last July, and (an VOU( h for the quality of his work TillS Wlli be followed by a dOuble bill of Tom Lister’s The G/ft and Nick Underwood's Loose Tongues, running from Thursday 22 until Saturday 24 February
WHISPERS SENDS CONGRATULATIONS to Nicky Axford on her appointment as the new general manager of Pitlochry Festival Theatre. The former manager of the Royal Lyceum replaces the late Sheila Harborth in the position, and intends to continue with the extensive and ambitious plans for the theatre. These include the improvement of the theatre's technical facilities, which might well allow a year-round programme of performances in the near future.
Karen Koren is promoting new theatre at The Gilded Balloon