Catharsis. Of course it was. The word I was looking for. Catharsis. A Greek word, of course. How else to explain this addiction to theatre that rips your guts out, and spreads them all over the stage? Two hours, sat stock still: with yet more streams of tears replacing those only just beginning to dry? The sense of loss: knowing that you will never see this again…? Catharsis. κάθαρσις. Music used to be my drug. Now, it is words….
Sadly, I missed Thursday night’s captioned performance of Hecuba, due to the dreaded lurgy – but still, thanks to the ever-patient RSC Box Office, I managed to get last night’s ticket at my preferred left-hand end of a row – as just about always. Which meant that I was very close to the stage (not that you are ever that far away) in the Swan – and not distracted by those wonderful words in lights.
But why were there any tickets left at all for – randomly sampling yesterday’s Tweets – what has been described as an “inspiring production”, as an “eloquent play [that] really deserves to be seen” and “some of the best acting and dramaturgy we’ve ever seen” with “powerful performances from a brilliant cast” – and what I called the “best thing since Oppenheimer…”?
Sometimes, you read a book; see, or hear, a performance; a play; a symphony… and you know it will stay with you for ever: not just because of the greatness of the work itself; the commitment and skill of those producing, directing or acting it; not even because it gets to the heart of being human; and leaves an indelible mark on your heart… but that all these things align for a rare, thrilling, extended moment: to make something unique; something very special indeed.
Nadia Albina (Cassandra) in background; Derbhle Crotty (Hecuba) in foreground – photo by Topher McGrillis/RSC
With the breathing-space afforded by the fortnight following my second close encounter with the marvel that this is, you might have imagined that I would have succeeded in distancing myself a little from the play’s compelling potency, its undeniable overwhelmingness. But, anticipating – nay, preparing for – tonight’s performance, I found myself (as with Oppenheimer, above) unable to take an objective stumble backwards – or even a painful glance over my shoulder – and gain even a hint, a particle, of true perspective. I must bear this too it seems.
Clichés remind and reassure us that we’re not alone, that others have trod this ground long ago.
– Miguel Syjuco: Illustrado
It is a cliché that words and tongues have might – but some are more (thrice?) puissant than others – especially if you are receptive to them – An assault on the soul if you still had one. Brought to life by as talented, persuasive and expressive a company (and I must include the creatives) as that currently performing in the Swan Theatre (albeit completing its short run later today…) – “with fatal mouths gaping” – you are as vulnerable as the French at Harfleur: “and down goes all before them”.
In a way, though, I thought I was prepared: forewarned… and all that. However, being so close to the action – eyeball-to-eyeball at some points – and perhaps aided by this being my third visit (accompanied by two, gripped readings of the text: familiarity breeding consent, perhaps…) – there were some intimate moments (of what I can only describe as ‘crystallized grief’) that will stick with me for a very long time. Chu Omambala lifting Derbhle Crotty from her knees – And my proud mother who has never knelt for anyone, kneels now, pulls at his sleeve – from where Hecuba begs for mercy. The horrific realization in Odysseus’ face as he gazes deep into hers – She’s gripping my hands so tight it hurts.
And then the tears glistening on Agamemnon’s cheeks (reflecting ours), as Ray Fearon howls the climax of his soliloquy (possibly the greatest moment in the whole play) at the skies, mourning the betrayal of his own daughter – you call yourself King they said….
And the long silences: including that before the house-lights dimmed. The audience knew….
How do you measure great theatre…? By what has gone before; or by its effect now…?
You thought Troy was untouchable. You thought your gilded life would go on forever…. Nothing goes on forever.