Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Traverse Plays - Jim Haynes (ed)

Classic selection of 8 one-act plays from the Sixties.  Not all are original - both Bellow plays are dramatised short stories, but no less effective for the transition, and the Pinget is the famously free 'translation' by Beckett of the original French radio play La Manivelle (known in English as The Old Tune).  Marguerite Duras's La Musica reads like a radio play, with voices 'off' and 'overheard' telephone conversations, but - as far as I can discover - isn't.  I can find almost nothing about George Mully, whose "analytical farce" The Master of Two Servants left me cold and unamused.  C P Taylor's Allergy is amusing enough but for me the two standouts in this collection are the Yukio Mishima (The Lady Aoi) and the Heathcote Williams (The Local Stigmatic).

Mishima's play is startling - when he mentions a 'living phantasm', he really means it, and I can't think of a coup de theatre to match the boat sailing into the hospital room and the way its sail is then used for the denouement.  It is actually a Noh-style play, which explains much but also adds to the wonderment.  Oriental magic realism, perhaps.

Williams likewise regards the stage as a fluid space.  His two principals, Graham and Ray, move seamlessly through several locations.  Their dialogue has a surface gloss of hyper-realism, but it is only realistic in the sense that Edward Bond's dialogue is realistic - what they say is rarely important, what matters is the violence of the ritualised arguments that arise from such trivia.  As so often in Bond, the verbal violence becomes physical as the apparent antagonists collaborate, without any discussion or qualm, in a monstrous assault on a film actor they encounter in a pub.

Both these plays are object lessons in how much can be achieved in one act.  They continue to resonate long after reading and one can only imagine the effect they have on theatre audiences.

None of the plays here seem especially dated but it is sobering to think that only Williams and the Traverse Theatre founder Jim Haynes, who edits and introduces the collection, are still alive.

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