April 2011


Today she was 95!  She knew there was something special.  The nurses put up a banner and two balloons in her room, they had even baked a cake with a single candle on it, sang happy birthday, but they had lost her shoes and she had lost all recollection.  She couldn’t understand why had they dolled her up, combed her hair, dressed her in her smartest blue dress, even shaved the whiskers from her chin?  What was going on? 

She was worried about where she was going and so was her friend Betty.  ‘You will bring her back won’t you?’   I promised to get her back by supper.  

All the way to Chatsworth, she kept up a running commentary. ‘Look at those trees.  What do you call them; the ones with the white blossom.  Can you smell them?  It looks like a reservoir up there?  I used to walk along here.  That’s a lovely house.  I remember that tree.  I went everywhere by myself.  I’ve been in that pub. What do you call this town?  Ah, yes, Hathersage.’   She was like a little girl on an outing.  ‘Oh I won’t want to go back home. …..   I can’t remember where I live.’     

I took her to the farm shop and she plodded along after me, carrying the empty bag.  She likes being with people.  I had to talk loudly to her and repeat myself.  It was like being on stage, but the audience looked away. 

At my cottage, she enjoyed the lemon tea and the date and walnut cake.  She opened her cards.  Simon had made her a card with a rather beautiful poppy on it; mine was a photo of bluebells.  But when the conversation lapsed, she looked around in panic and in a voice, querulous and pitched high, declared,  ‘ I am unsettled; I don’t know where I am’.  I explained this was my house.  ‘But where do I live?  Can’t I stay with you?

When we returned the others were having tea, the same blank expressions, looking but not seeing, grabbing their food with mechanical shovels – got to keep the body alive even though ……  I parked her at a table, went to put her coat back in her room, propped her cards up, noticed that Doreen had left a present for her – some tiny white flowers in a pot and looked in Pamela’s room for the pictures of the family that had gone missing, but when I went in to say goodbye, she’d forgotten I’d ever come.

Lionel has been rector of his poor inner city London parish for a long time.  He is a compassionate man, who offers support and pastoral care to his parishioners,  visits hospitals and prisons and is a good shepherd to his flock,  but Lionel’s  faith is slipping.   This is reported to Charlie, Bishop of Southwark, who urges him to express his  true faith in the liturgy.  ‘It’s not so much what you believe’,  he asserts, ‘as what you are seen to believe’; the Christian ritual is clearly more important than pastoral care.   Lionel and his friends have quietly ignored this while paying lip service to it.  Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon, cannot see what all the fuss is about.  He glories in God’s natural world and can’t be doing with the dogma.  Things come to a head when the newly ordained Tony, who has discovered  his evangelistic zeal and rejected his much more realistic relationship with his perceptive girl friend, persuades one of Lionel’s practitioners to leave her husband.  In the meantime, Harry’s live-in relationship with Ewan has got into the Sunday papers.  But it’s Lionel, who the Bishop, furious at the ordination of women, is after.   He may succeed in the short term, but change is inevitable.        

David Hare’s play reminds me of recent deliberations of the future of British psychoanalysis.  Are those trained in the dark arts a  loose philosophical conglomeration of curious and reflective individuals driven by a desire to understand and make sense of our collective existence in order to help their clients or are they  constitutionally bound to uphold the belief and values of a particular dogma, to practice the ritual, intone the liturgy.  Is is there any difference between the psychoanalytical institutions and certain Christian sects or even the Orwellian ‘Thought Police’?  The threat of Big  Brother is ever present.  Dare to express a different opinion and you could be excommunicated.      

The difficulty is that however much we may try to maintain the faith, however much we may fear change, we can’t stop it happening.  If we are going to survive, we have to adapt.  Psychoanalysis is very different than it was in the 1930s; beliefs, attitudes, forms of communication, the structure and even the existence of the family are all different.  We are all divided from our children by time and change. 

Psychotherapy has become more accountable, more measurable; like it or loathe it, most therapists and counsellors are practicing a modified form of cognitive behavioural therapy.  Like the tribes of Papua New Guinea, the culture of psychoanalysis is not so much dying but being assimilated into more generic forms of psychotherapy.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.   I believe that psychoanalytically inclined psychotherapists should communicate and work with the new breed of counsellors and psychotherapists and lend their considerable insight to bring about an evolution of thought and practice?   

But isn’t that what’s happening?  How many psychoanalytical psychotherapists practice a pure form of psychoanalysis?  Haven’t we all found in various ways that we have had to develop our own eclectic blend of practices?  Isn’t this what education is about?  We learn a method and then adapt it according to the environment in which we work.   Our training provides a way of thinking that we cannot ignore, but doesn’t this create opportunities to cross pollinate and produce more robust cultivars?  Shouldn’t we embrace and be as curious about the new influences as we are about the old doctrines?  The question for all refective beings is how we can create the sort of integrative, lively meeting of minds from which we can grow.  Were Sigmund Freud still alive, I don’t think he would cling to the ideas he had a century ago.  He always tried to move with the times. 

Racing Demons has been one of three plays in the recent David Hare season in Sheffield.  The Cameron government is seeking to regulate  psychotherapy as a discipline under the Health Professions Council.    

In society, behaviour is everything .  You have to be seen to conform to the values and attitudes of the group, to belong, especially if you are in a minority separate culture like the Jews in North London.   You’re either in or you’re out. 

David is so anxious to be considered part of the Jewish community in Edgware, that he would sacrifice family, everything.   So when his son Danny, fighting in the Iraeli army tries to tell his father he is scared and wants to return home, David tells him that his loyalty to his men is more important; he has to do his duty.  But Danny is killed, and before he dies he testifies to his sister Ruth, a human rights lawyer working on a report about Israeli atrocities in Gaza, about the guilt he feels at having bombed innocent children in a school.  

Ruth is demonised by the community for her apparent criticism of the Jewish state and David is ostracised.  People like the appalling Saul, a gynaecologist and synagogue leader, withdraw their trade from David. 

So David is forced into a dreadful conflict.  Is he to bow down to the wishes of the community and stop his daughter attending the funeral or is he to support all of his children, acknowledge Danny’s fear and guilt and face down his society?  Can he support his family in the face of prejudice?  Can he understand and help his second son, Jonny, who is lost in drugs and meaninglessness?  Can he be proud of his daughter for her courage?  Can he feel compassion for Danny?   These are the components of David’s dilemma.  What’s more important, his society or his soul?  

Too much trouble in the world, too many wars,  are caused by the blind adherence to dogma, to attitudes laid down by a rigid and fearful society.   More people need to stand up for what they feel is right, to speak out.

Dare to be a Jonah!  Dare to stand alone!  How many of us would be confident enough in our own skin to face isolation in the service of what we feel is right?  

Henry Goodman plays David in Ryan Craig’s  new play, ‘The Holy Rosenbergs’ currently being performed at the Cottesloe.   Henry Goodman is for me one of our very best actors.  The Cottesloe the perfect intimate space for such a close family drama.   ‘Dare to be a Jonah’ is the motto that Tony Benn has attempted to live by.    

Who was Eddie Carbone?  Was he the strong leader of the longshoremen that worked between Brooklyn Bridge and the breakwater in the nineteen fifties, the kind uncle, who offered a home to his orphaned niece,  the compassionate community activist who found employment and  accommodation for illegal immigrants from the old country?   Yes all of these.  These aspects of Eddie deserved respect, but there was also a dark side; Eddie the tyrant, the bully, the weak man, so insecure of his own masculinity and power, he would terrorise his wife and niece and betray those he offered to shelter and protect. 

The trouble started when Marco and Rodolfo came to stay.  Eddie was already preoccupied by the blossoming sexuality of his niece, Catherine, and becoming over-possessive, but when it became clear that she was falling in love with Rodolfo, he had to put a stop to it.  He told his lodgers to leave, but Catherine threatened to leave too, so Eddie, desperate to keep his niece, informed the immigration authorities and Marco and Rodolfo were arrested pending deportation.  Out on bail, Marco comes looking for Eddie.  They fight, Eddie pulls a knife, but during the tussle, Marco turns the knife on Eddie and kills him. 

The View from the Bridge, probably Arthur Miller’s most powerful work, exposes the fragility of the American dream of opportunity, freedom and shelter for the dispossessed, through the complex personality of Eddie.

Eddie affects strength and demands respect, but is so insecure of his own sexuality and power.  His wife Beatrice is in charge of the home (and the bed) and Eddie is troubled by the sexual presence of Catherine and too concerned about Rodolfo’s sexuality.   He is threatened by the arrival of the cousins from Italy and feels compelled to demonstrate his dominance in demonstrations of boxing and trials of strength, which he loses.  He fears the loss of his dominant status in the community and the family, and resorts, like all weak leaders, to tyranny.   Inevitably, his entrenched attitude brings about the tragedy that shatters the world of everybody associated with him. 

And now America is trying to exert its will on Libya by bombing forces loyal to its leader.  It won’t end well for any of us.

 

 Lights up. 

Jean and Roy are stark naked on the bed.  Jean is lying on her back. Roy is sitting sideways with his back to her.  Neither moves. 

Pause

Roy picks up a packet of cigarettes and takes one out.

Wanna fag?

Yeah.

Roy gives her a cigarette, then lights the cigarettes, his own first

Good that, wannit?

Yeah.      

It is a cold December evening in 1978, the winter of discontent.  They are in Jean’s bedsit in Kilburn and have just enjoyed another meaningless fuck before Roy has to shoot off back to his wife and kids.  Jean’s face is bleak, expressionless.  Roy is bored, eager to go.  He leaves her a can of beer.  A few days later, he returns for another go, but Jean isn’t interested.  He gets angry, violent, but Dawn arrives.  Then Val, his wife bursts in.  They fight and leave, breaking the bed.   Jean and Dawn depart  the scene of desolation and go down the pub. 

Later, they return with Mick, Dawn’s Irish husband and Len, a slow, kindly man who was once sweet on Jean.  They get drunk.  Jean sings Danny Boy, wistfully.  She has a lovely voice.  The others thump out bawdy rhymes and laugh.  ‘Oh, dirty, dirty!’  Dawn squeals. They’re having such a wicked time; such good craik!  Mick and Dawn dance, become amorous.  Len and Jean sit apart, merely observers.  Mick and Dawn leave noisily.  Jean breaks down, tells Len he can stay if he wants to.  But Len cares too much to fuck her and at the same time too much to abandon her.  He kisses her goodnight and settles down in the chair in from of the fire and waits for the meter to run out. 

Last year, an estimated 35% of British people were living alone, many in circumstances as squalid as Jean’s.  But living alone is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be good to have our own space, to think our own thoughts.  Solitude can be peace, contemplation, balm for the spirit, as long as you know that somebody is there.  Loneliness is something altogether different;  it’s that painful awareness of being alone in the world, that nobody cares, and life has no meaning. 

That’s what Jean suffers from.  It was better when she was able to go out onto the forecourt and chat to the drivers as she was filling their cars.  Now she is behind a screen, she takes the money they pass through the slit, tells them to type their pin in.  Nobody engages; nobody cares. 

There is no human connection for Jean except for her occasional night visitor.   But the callous devastation of it all shocks us to the core.   An act of love that should carry all the meaning in the world is desecrated, violated, forcibly stripped of any affection.  It might have been better if Jean  had been paid; but she had sunk so low, become so lonely that she puts up with any connection, however brutal and exploitative.  This is the Misrata of the soul.  If love means nothing, then what meaning can be found in any other aspect of life.   Why bother?   

‘Whatever’  has become the most hopeless word of our age.  It conveys a complete lack of care and meaning.  Whatever!  If anything goes, nothing has any meaning.            

 

It’s 30 years on since Mike Leigh wrote Ecstasy and the first time he has ever revived a play, but the theme is perhaps more relevant, more shocking, now than  it was then.  Loneliness could be seen as the most prevalent illness of our time, only we tend to call it depression or a variety of other medically unexplained illnesses.  If we are not to fail as a species, we need to find society, community, love and meaning and take it three times a day with meals. 

After a successful run at The Hsampstead Theatre, Ecstasy has transferred to the West End and is currently playing at The Duchess Theatre, Covent Garden. 

The craft of David Hare is how he blends the political and personal in a mutual metaphor that illustrates a theme.  Plenty is a play about freedom,  the personal freedom of a woman to live a life of adventure in an environment where this was frowned on.  It’s also about boredom.   The political backdrop is the erosion of empire, the debacle of Suez and the realisation having won the war, Britain was no longer a great power in the world. 

Susan is a young woman with yearning for adventure.  During the latter years of the second world war, she served with the French Resistance; dangerous, exciting work, risking her life and snatching love whenever she could.   Back in England after the war, she could not recapture that same  excitement and adventure she needed working in an shipping office, organising events,  creating television advertisements.   She was bored.  Only Alice, who didn’t give a damn about what people thought,  provided the sense of fun she desperately needed.  But after a failed relationship with a street trader, Mick (played by  Sting),  she was admitted to a mental institution, and rescued by Raymond, a minor diplomat.  She marries Raymond,  but is almost driven mad by the boredom of it all.  She escapes and meets again the love of her life, a young airman with the codename of Lazare, whom she met and loved for a single night, but never forgot.   Their second encounter was a disappointment; they got drunk, made love, and he left …. again. 

For me, the play hinged around two vignettes:  Susan on a radio panel was asked why she fought in The Resistance,  she said she was fighting for freedom, but from her confusion, you guessed  it was not freedom for the French, it was her own personal freedom to do something that meant something for her.  In the other scenario, Sir Andrew, the Foreign Minister, told Susan that in the diplomatic service, it wasn’t conviction that mattered,  it was behaviour and conformity, being able to strike deals with people even when you didn’t believe what they were doing was right.  The British, he said, led the world in diplomacy.    

But Susan was such a liability as a diplomat’s wife.  Deprived of adventure, she became bored and dangerous and could easily spin out of control.  She hated being pinned down, controlled.  She needed the adrenaline rush, the excitement of a one night stand, the joy of shocking people, the risk of flouting convention.  She could not live in the rigid society she found herself in.  She never wanted to be married but was quite willing to invite a stranger to be father her child, but when he became possessive, she loaded her pistol and fired at him.  Raymond  was devoted to her, but she set about destroying his carefully ordered life. 

Was she mad?   Well, she was impulsive,  incompletely socialised and at times out of control.  She  didn’t fit in, she needed the freedom to express herself.  But she wasn’t deluded;  she appeared more aware of what was going on than those around her, only they didn’t dare to speak their minds.  Her analysis of the Suez fiasco was penetrating and accurate and had the power to shock and embarrass.  Her assertion that the foreign office was sidelining Raymond was absolutely correct.   Even her assessment of their marriage was devastating in its truth.  But Susan dared to say what others only thought and therefore she had to be suppressed.   Her behaviour could not be tolerated. 

We are not told why Susan had such a desperate need for thrills and excitement, why normal conventions bored her to destruction, why she said what she thought.  Was her psychic development forged by a parent, probably her father, who excited her with thrills and indulged her sense of adventure, but never wished to rein her in?   Did she spend her life seeking for that father; what he represented?  Was that her blessing  ….. and her tragedy?   

‘Plenty’  (1985) by David Hare, starred Meryl Streep, Charles Dance, Tracey Ullman, Ian McKellen,Sam Neill, Sting and John Geilgud.   The play was part of the recent David Hare season at the Crucible but I had missed it. 

 

Was there ever a more thrilling ensemble?   

The wild whoops and daring dives not of the solo violin,

But the rolling tumbling, death defying  lapwings. 

The woodwind section, a haunting of curlew,

their querulous ascent and curdling decline, 

 a wild race of  whistling oystercatchers,     

the redshank that pipes and dips from the wall.  

The choir, an alchemy  of plaintive plover,

banking  gold and white and back to gold again,  

 the skylarks locked in their trilling elevators

and the paragliding squeaking of pipits,

the brass is the honking  pairs of greylag  geese on morning  patrol,

percussion, the  humming, thrumming, drumming of roller coaster snipe. 

All this, while wheatears, that slate and primrose spring  

take silent  ownership  of cup and ring.    

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