Epistemysics

Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

Critique: The Diary of a Madman

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Program

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

Neil Armfield is a time traveller and David Holman is a plagiarist.  “Proof!” I hear you cry.  Give me a minute why don’t you.  Hold your horses and all that.  Perhaps hold your imaginary horses as well:

Belvoir's new logo

Settle down – the jokes can’t get much lamer than that.

Anyway, as you’d probably know by now, this production of The Diary of a Madman isn’t the first – it was initially performed in 1989.  And yet – and yet – when we look in the program notes, the biography of the writer, David Holman, in particular, we find the following:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

Blah, blah, blah, boring stuff follows, then:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

Annoying page break, then, finally, the finish:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

Do you see?  The original production was in 1989, but according to this, “David suggested to Neil that someone devise a stage version” of the show in the “early 1990s”.  Hence, Neil Armfield travelled from 1989 to the future (early 1990s), took the script from David Holman, popped back in the time machine to 1989 again, and put on the play before David Holman had written it.

Hence (1) Neil Armfield is a time traveller, and (2) David Holman only wrote the play after it had been performed, so he, in essence, plagiarised himself.

Just what the hell is going on at Belvoir nowadays?  Is Neil Armfield’s departure as Artistic Director due to the degrading side-effects of time travel?  Is he worried that he might come to work one day and find himself reclining in his office chair?

Of course, it could just be a typo, but that’s not a very interesting explanation now, is it?  The truth may be stranger than fiction, but it’s often a hell of a lot more boring as well.

Anyway, it’s a pretty pathetic program.  A writer’s note:

[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

And a director’s note that is much the same, and the biographies, and that’s it.

Nothing else of interest, really.  Not much to comment on.  Very little to cast a critical eye over.

I’m starting to wish that I’d spun out that time traveller story a bit more.  I mean, philosophically, at least, it’s completely valid.  Not in the Back to the Future sense, which isn’t philosophically correct at all, but more to do with the time travel in the sense of a movie like La Jetee or something.  You’ve got no idea what that is, I assume.  Let me tell you a story that is much the same.

There is a child, a happy little five year old boy who is playing with his toys in his room one day, when in rushes his mother, screaming, locking the door behind her, and dialling the police on her phone.  “Help me, help me,” she screams into the mouthpiece, “there’s a crazed gunman in my house.  Oh god, help me.”

The little boy has no idea what’s going on, but he’s scared.  Suddenly the knob on the bedroom door is tried, but the person outside can’t get in.  They start to bash the door down, and after some time they manage to storm the room.  The mother screams and shields her child, but the gunman shoots her in the head.  Blood splatters everywhere.  But then the police barge in and shoot the man in the head as well, red splodging all over the walls and the child’s face.  The little boy is terrified, but he is alive, albeit without any parents – his father killed in a work accident before he was born.  Orphaned, he is taken as a ward of the state.

His is a troubled childhood.  Traumatised by the massacre in his house, he doesn’t adjust to normal life, doesn’t have any friends, but is just left alone to fester and grow his neuroses.  He reaches the age of 30 and something inside him clicks – he has to kill, and he has to do it now.  But he’s smart, this traumatised little boy who is now a man, intelligent enough to murder many people and get away with it, all the time feeling no remorse.  Twenty years later, and having killed hundreds, he is finally caught by the police and locked up.

Over time his urge to kill lessens, and, with the help of religion, he comes to repent, comes to feel guilt for what he has done.  But that isn’t enough for the man – he has to right the wrongs, he has to fix all that he has broken.  Remorseful, but still intelligent, he devises a plan to escape prison and build a time machine.  Two years later he has done both, and he stands in his hideout, his time machine humming in front of him, and sets his final plan in motion – he will travel back to his childhood and kill himself before he can grow up to do harm to others.  He steps in the machine, switches it on, and, after a few moments, steps out decades earlier.  He finds a gun, makes his way to his house, and, after some struggle, bashes down the door to his bedroom.  His mother is there, shielding her child, and having heard her call the police, he shoots her in the head.  He trains his gun on his five year old self, squeezes the trigger to shoot, but just before he can a policeman kills him.  The end.

Try wrapping that one around your brain.  You’ve just been philosophised, my friends.  Put that in your rolled up copy of the Crito and smoke it.

So not only is my version of events more interesting, it’s also philosophically sound.  How often do you get that in a program review?  (Well, considering that I think I’m the only one who does program reviews, I can actually give you a fairly accurate answer to the question – never.)

Anyway.

Longest Column Award goes to… Paul Cutlan, one of the musicians.  Congratulations, Paul, you win a kazoo.

So.  1 for the writer’s note.  1 for the director’s note.  1 for the biographies.  1 for the photos.  There’s the entire script of the play at the start, but the script isn’t part of the program.

The score?

4/10.

Play

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

It’s not often that one finds oneself in conversation with a bowl of fruit, and it’s even rarer that the discourse should err on the side of intelligence, let alone a cogent and heated debate.  Of the many things that I have come, over the decades, to expect from my fruit – nutrition, flavour, freshness – the one quality that I can be sure never crossed or even tried to overtake my mind was sentience.  A denial of sentience is cause for many evils in the world, and I am a man that tries not to be evil.  And so it was that at the same time I found that my bananas had a hitherto unknown passion for Wittgenstein and African music, I also discovered that my food pyramid was beginning to look like an abstract Jenga game.

It was the Granny Smith that started it.  It had recommended to me that I see a production of The Diary of a Madman at Belvoir Street Theatre.  Spaghetti dangled from my fork as I tried to make sense of things – I had become as normalised to the verbal whims of my fruit as one could expect, but this revelation of a supposedly miraculous transportation to the theatre, and this not even considering how it had got the money…

I wasn’t allowed to ponder the impossibilities for more than two seconds before the Valencia had begun its tirade.  How could its fellow green fruit think that The Diary of a Madman was good, when clearly it was one of the worst pieces of theatre in 2010?  The two battled on while I slurped my pasta, but then things started to turn nasty.  Acid brain, cried one.  Stew bait, taunted the other.  It was clear that something had to be done – the other fruit were getting restless.  Hello?  I’m trying to ripen here, said a peach.  Seasonals, always fighting, the banana muttered.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, determined to mediate the matter.  “I’ll go and see this play tomorrow and then I’ll be able to tell you which one of your opinions is right.  Or I can act as a go-between while you argue, help to keep the debate civilised and all that.”  This seemed to placate them, though the avocado was determined to cause trouble.  There’s no use, it said.  You can’t compere apples and oranges.

I decided to finish the rest of my dinner in front of the television, away from the Malus-Citrus tensions, and, the next day being a Saturday, resolved to see the matinee.

Tuovi (Yael Stone)

I was rather verklempt after seeing the play.  Indeed, I was quite verklempt throughout the entire play-going experience.  My fruit had failed to tell me that Geoffrey Rush was starring in the production, and they had particularly left out the trifle of a factoid that the entire run of the play had sold out many months ago, which rather put a dampener on the day’s events.  I expected that the avocado would be snorting contemptuously in my apartment as it amused itself with my follies, and determined to buy some corn chips on the way home so that I could leave them in such a place as to ever so subtly suggest that a bout of guacamole might be on the cards.  But there was no time to ponder how to terrorise my fruit, for I was standing in the Belvoir foyer feeling the first pangs of verklemptness as I had just been informed of the lack of tickets.  I needed a plan, I needed a good one, and I needed it post-haste.

A courier was out of the question so I continued to brainstorm.  Then, my mental faculty the most-funded department at the University of Me, I knew what was to be done.  The nearest chemist was not near, and so, sprinting, I puffed my way into the store.  “Ipecac,” said I, though taking approximately thirteen syllables in the process.  The chemist-in-charge launched an inquisitive eyebrow in my direction, to which I responded, “my baby…she…drain cleaner…ipecac”, which returned the super-optic follicles to the launch pad and instigated the pharmaceutical transaction.  I stumbled back to the theatre, bottle in hand, climbing up Bogan Hill as I neared the entrance – the steep incline up Belvoir Street known by that moniker because, no matter how middle class you may look at the bottom, by the time you’ve sweated your way to the top you’re only a full set of teeth away from blending in with a lower strata of person.

I stalked the foyer until I found a middle-aged couple near the bar, drinks in hand, tickets tempting out of the man’s shirt pocket.  I coincidenced a slight bump, a less slight distraction, a tip of the ipecac into the man’s glass, a surreptitious extraction of tickets, and a smooth though apologetic withdrawal.  The last I heard as I began my stair-ascension to the auditorium was a loud retching followed by a shrill, yet still feminine, “manager, I think the wine may be corked!”, and though I couldn’t be sure, for statistics are not my speciality, it seemed like the theatre filled rather quickly, as if the other patrons were keen to get out of the foyer.

My verklempsion continued as I watched the two hours’ traffic of the stage.  I don’t know what the cars were doing there, but once the vehicles had left the play began proper.  And yet even then the verklempsion continued.

I saw many things.

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

I saw the rain dribbling down the skylight, dirty, panelled windows that filtered the joy from the sun’s rays, diffusing a decrepit gloom about the room; grimy panes that suggested that there was something beyond them, something missed, some secret of reality just out of reach; greasy translucencies that, even though they pointed to the sky, you would not have been surprised to have found an overgrown greenhouse on the other side, as if life was desperately trying to creep in one photosynthesis at a time, and yet was always stopped, always stagnated; as if out there, outside, the physical world bloomed glorious, whereas here, on the other side, deep down in the murky well, the mental had long ago cannibalized the diminished physical, had slowly redirected the life flow until nothing but a series of intravenous drips fed the corporeal form, minimal drops that only sustained, that allowed nothing more but mere subsistence; drops plonking into tins, drips plopping into buckets, caught even at the last so that the status quo was maintained; the wooden floor stained, water damaged, scars from battles fought and lost, signs of reality seeping away; the rickety bed and trepidacious table, rotted symbols glimpsing respectability; the creaking ladder posing no threat of escape; the stack of newspapers, the tower of pulp, the Babellian dominance that proclaimed the power of print, the might of words, the stronghold for all the illusions to follow; the walls the colour of dried blood, a mottled wound forced to gape, ordered to seethe and ooze and glisten like damp algae; the diminishing ceiling, the constructed logic descending to dank madness; the daze of it all, the sweating red walls, the humid green roof percolating into the pans below, the whole leaching, the entirety salivating and suppurating, an architectural Venus flytrap waiting to snap shut, passing the time until its victim was too weak to fight back – this is where Poprishchin lived, and I saw it all.

I saw Yael Stone playing the three female characters in the play.  I saw her play Tuovi, the Finnish servant girl, unfailingly tending to the failure, desperately trying to inject her hopes for Poprishchin into him, yet always rebuffed, forever shut out, left to feel the anguish of the companions that madness inevitably leaves behind, a friend rooted in reality while the other floats away out of reach.  I saw her play Sophia, the daughter of the Director (Poprishchin’s boss), strutting around the stage with the haughty arrogance that comes from a life of expected privilege, ignorant of her mad admirer tapping on the glass outside – at least until he breaks through her crystal bubble.  And I saw her play Tatiana, an inmate of the asylum where Poprischin ends, animating with chilling effect the terror that can only come from unreality, the unending nightmare of phantasms turning on their master.  I saw her in all of these roles, and I was convinced.

And, of course, I saw Geoffrey Rush playing Poprishchin.  I saw him prance the boards, flit about like a candle running out of wick; a gesture here, an overemphasised pose there, a welcoming nod to the observer, clowning and fooling and merrymaking until the well was dry, chasing after figments, recoiling from fantasies, riding on the grandeur of billowing delusions – an unrequited love of Sophia, an unsubstantiated inheritance of Spain’s throne, an unexamined feud with dogs – one moment shrinking, the next ballooning outwards, pushing away logic and filling with insanity.  I saw hell’s gravity draw his fluttering leaf to its infernal core until his soul, all but incinerated, emitted a final, smoky whisper of desperation – I am not mad, I am only misunderstood.  It is the last breath that does us in.

And after taking the last breath, I had seen everything that was on offer.  And that was that.

Sophie (Yael Stone)

On the whole, verklempsion aside, I found it to be a quite enjoyable experience, and decided that I would side with the Granny Smith when I returned home, a journey that required me to once more make my way through the foyer, where I overheard (though completely accidentally – I do not make it habit to eavesdrop) one of the bartenders.  “But how can it have been corked,” he said, wiping the bar with a cloth, “when the bottle was a screwtop?  Maybe it did have a cork…”

I made it a point not to linger in the foyer for long.

I was troubled when I reached my apartment, because I realised that I had not found the play to be quite as enjoyable as others that I had seen.  Indeed, I had come to understand that my expectations had not been fulfilled, that, unlike seemingly every other critic in Sydney, I had not thought the play ‘great’.  Enjoyable, yes, a good diversion of one’s time, yes, but a classic, something destined to enter the canon?  No.  I decided to consult my fruit on the matter.

I put the corn chips and bottle of ipecac syrup on the kitchen bench – I had remembered to drop by the supermarket on the way back – and faced the bowl.  The avocado seemed nervous, its skin a bit more wrinkled than before, though my intimidation tactics did nothing to subdue its tongue.  Corn chips and ipecac? it said, cackling at the same time, what are you, a Mexican bulimic? I ignored the comment and proceeded to relate my experiences to the fruit jury.

See, it’s just what I said, said the orange, a complete waste of time.

“But I enjoyed myself,” I said.  “It wasn’t a waste of time, or money.”

The apple cleared its throat, or, considering that it lacked a trachea, at least made a sound similar to a throat being cleared.  Obviously he’s jaded.  He’s been a critic too long, and this is just some reflexive action whereby he refuses to like anything.

“I’m not biased!  I can’t believe you’d say something like—”

I didn’t say you were biased, the apple interjected.  If anything, I implied you were incompetent.

“Incompetent?  I suppose it’s too much for a man to expect a little bit of loyalty from his fruit nowadays!”

The avocado saw an opportunity.  A man?  You’re hardly a man.  More of an effete dandy, I’d say, to which several of the grapes concurred.

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush) and Sophie (Yael Stone)

“I am not an effete dandy!” I screeched, my voice lowering two octaves throughout the sentence as I realised the initial pitch was doing nothing to disprove the point, though in the end the effect was one that didn’t so much underline my masculinity as it rather made it sound that I was trying to burp and talk at the same time.

Dandy says what? taunted the avocado.

“What’s that?”  I said, determined to regain control of the situation.  “You want me to make some guacamole?”  I paused for a moment, waiting for the avocado to say something else, and when it didn’t, continued.  “Now then, back to the play.  I’m very conflicted about this, you see, very conflicted, and you’re not making the situation—”

The orange snored.  I slammed my palm onto the table, regretting it instantly, the pain dissolving into a thousand pin pricks.

All right, all right, said the orange.  Don’t get your boxer shorts in a twist.

“I wear briefs, actually.”

No wonder you can’t have children – the avocado this time – you’ve overheated the sperm factories.  Too much sweat in the sweatshop.  Whereas Geoffrey Rush – he was wearing three quarter pants, by the look of it.  Probably freeballing as well.  Going commando, you know.  Giving the maracas space to make some music.  Dangling the cherries.  Letting the pendulums swing their full period.  Opening the barn doors to let some air in.  Ensuring that the meatballs have a fighting chance of rolling under the table.  Allowing nature to pull him down.  Setting the blimps free from their moorings.  Making—

I ripped open the packet of corn chips.

I’ll shut up now.

“Thank you.”  I masticated on my advantage for a few moments.

Well? said the orange.

“Well, what?”

Do you think he was freeballing it or not?

I’d be interested to know as well, said the apple.

“Why would I care?”

The orange and the apple conferred for a moment, then the apple spoke up.  Isn’t it your job to know these things?  Besides, think of what an exclusive it would be for your site – knowing the state of his undergarments.  Think of the analyses you could do!

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

It was right.  The analyses were endless.  How the character’s freeballing state affected his descent into madness – did the extra air speed the process, did the extra virility provide more confidence, was his lack of testicular support a sign of weakness, and so on.  I’d be the toast of the critical town!

Stars in my eyes, and a star in my sight, I knew what had to be done.

I approached the theatre for the third time that day, but this time in my car, the bowl of fruit on the seat next to me.  I can’t see a damn thing! said the avocado.  Stop squeezing me, cried the lemon.  Punchbuggy green, said a banana.  How can you call punchbuggy if you can’t see out? said another banana.  Cheater!  Cheater!

Without even being conscious of it, my hand reached to the volume knob of the radio and twisted it relentlessly to the right.  Strauss – Karajan – whumped through the speakers – some sort of waltz, it sounded like, Der Fledermaus Overture in all probability.  My radio is set permanently to classical music – a constant reminder to be pretentious.  I listened to the ebbs and flows of the music as the hand of bananas began fracturing.

There is a reason why people bob up and down when dancing to a waltz.  The music makes you want to.  A well turned out waltz urges you to push it along – its that slight pause, that microscopic break in the notes – you know the next note will come, the expectation of it is inbuilt into our biology, and yet it always comes just that little bit later than you expected.  You want it to come, you need it to come, and when it does, the pleasure is undeniable.

As the bananas drew up opposing constitutions, I realised that The Diary of a Madman was no waltz.  Yes – that was my problem with it, or one of them at least.  It wasn’t that I expected the structure of the play to be Straussian in its construction, but the structure presented wasn’t satisfactory.  I could see that it was very consciously chosen, however – eight scenes in the first act, fourteen in the second – yes, things were supposed to be accelerating towards the end, the coin spinning faster and faster down the charity funnel-spinner that you used to see in hospitals – and yes, I suppose they were, but it just, for me, didn’t work.  I had no desire to push.  The scenes might have been getting shorter towards the end, but the energy throughout the stayed constant.

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

Tragedy has an inevitable logic, while farce has a coincidental one.  Indeed, the difference between tragedy and farce is the way one wants to push – farce, you want to nudge the characters ever onwards; tragedy, you want to force the tide back.  (If one ever wanted a reason as to why Williamson’s works fail, it is because there is no desire to push in either direction.)  The delusion that Poprishchin has of being the King of Spain is a coincidental one, and so is comedic.  But it is harder to empathise with the tragedy of the following situation (his somewhat forced enrolment into an asylum after refusing to renounce his royalty) when it has comedic roots.  Waiting for Godot was, if ever there was one, a tragicomedy.  It wasn’t, however, a tragifarce.  An actor could pause to insert despair into a line, and it wouldn’t ruin the ‘drive’ of the play.  When you’re speeding towards the insane end – there is a reason why people spiral into madness – a despairing pause looks out of place.  It wasn’t until the final scene that I felt the tragedy, that my heart lurched into Poprishchin’s despair.  It wasn’t until the final scene that the pace slowed (at least, from my unreliable memory).  By that time it was too late for any real emotional depth.

One side a democracy, the other, dare I say it, a banana republic, the hand fought on as the court dancers whirled around the classical floor, and yet the play’s structure still scaffolded my mind.  As an audience member, I was pushing Poprishcin towards the abyss for the majority of the play, so that by the end, even if I wanted to hold back the tide, I didn’t have the time to turn around.

I’d take Waiting for Godot over The Diary of a Madman any day.  Indeed, perhaps The Diary of a Madman could be best described as an overbalanced Waiting for Godot (one protagonist instead of two – hence there being no second side of the coin to oppose things – pace, especially).  What made Beckett so great is that he realised that no one cries at high-speed.  At least I don’t.

But all this paled into comparison to Geoffrey Rush’s genital-liberation status.  I had determined to stalk the stage door so I could ask him about the matter.  I parked the car within viewing distance of the exit and, giving my fruit specific instructions to wake me up in time, started to doze off, passing the minutes as I waited for the evening’s performance to end.

It wasn’t my fruit that awakened me, however, but the shriek of sirens.  As I opened my eyes a police car wailed down the road and stopped in front of the theatre’s main entrance.

Someone’s in trouble, said the avocado, somehow managing to have climbed onto the dashboard.

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

“How do you know they’re not coming for you?” I said, turning the key in the ignition, trying impossibly to start my car without making a noise.  Someone had called the police.  Someone had obviously seen me, had detected my intent, and triple-loved their responsibility to the  men in blue.  But I couldn’t be sure, and there were things I needed to find out before I tried to escape.

Don’t be stupid, the guacamole-in-waiting continued, no one suspects the avocado.  The bananas, I noticed, had stopped their bickering – nothing unites two groups more than a common foe.

The policeman stepped from his car and looked in my direction, then turned and made his way into the theatre.  Another emerged from the car and did the same.  I waited.

A few nervous minutes later the two policemen came out, struggling to contain a man between them, his hands bound with a plastic-tie.  I watched as they tried to puppeteer him into the car – a process that took much longer than I expected, and just before he was forced into the vehicle, I recognised his face, and as if my recognition had cued from him his line, his face distorted into a fury, his ping-pong eyes searching for purchase, he screamed, “I don’t care if they’re all screwtops!  It was corked!  I didn’t do anything!”

As the police car drove away, King Muwatawa II, Commander of the Royal Banana Empire of the Fruit Bowl – I was unsure who it was that it had succeeded to eventuate the ‘second’ in the name – made his first royal pronouncement.  What the fuck was that about?

Your majesty, said a grape, you are truly a banana of the people – using the language of the common fruit.

I chose not to enlighten his subjects on the subject.

I settled down again.  But leaning back in my seat, my eyes having just closed, the avocado interrupted my drowsies, Punchbuggy Geoffrey Rush, punchbuggy Geoffrey Rush!

I sprang up so quickly that my forehead cracked against the rear-view mirror, causing it to bleed.  I wanted to staunch the trickling, but like a cuckoo-phobic Swiss, I didn’t have time, and so, scrabbling for a few seconds at the door handle, I rolled out of the car and started down the street.  He was setting a fast pace, and it was obvious that he wanted to be far gone from the vicinity before the crowd had squeezed out onto the footpath.  He was wearing a long overcoat, dirty gray in colour, as well as a brown fedora, though what was perhaps more relevant was his lack of socks.  Indeed, he seemed to have a lack of trousers as well, but as he strode along the sidewalk I noticed that the illusion had come about because he was still wearing his three-quarter pants from the show – hence there was still some leg showing.  What luck, I thought, what luck!

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

“Mr. Rush!  Mr. Rush!” I shouted.

He turned around, and, seeing me, began to walk faster.  So did I.

“Mr. Rush!  Mr. Rush!”

“Go away!” he cried, not turning around this time, but instead tightening his overcoat and placing a preventing hand on his hat.  “No autographs today!”

My legs moved faster.  “Mr. Rush!  Mr. Rush!”  He pretended not to hear me.  “I want to ask you something!”  Still no response.  “I’m a critic!”

He broke into a sprint.

About half a minute later he tripped, his hat dropping on the grass next to him.  By the time he had scrambled to his feet I had caught up and had his fedora in my hand.  He grabbed it from me.  “What,” he growled, “the hell do you want?”

I opened my mouth but no words came out.  What was I supposed to say?  How could I ask a question such as what I wanted to ask?  It was so personal, so private, and he and I weren’t on intimate terms.  I’d touched his hat, yes, but many a person has probably done that, besides which his hat covered an area much higher than the one I was interested in.  And then there was the fact that here, standing in front of me, demanding that I speak, was probably the most famous person I had ever met.

“Speak!”

I couldn’t.  I was starstruck.  All that came out was a kind of rasping gurgle, as if someone was flushing something particularly viscous down a toilet.

“I don’t have time for this,” he said, and, replacing his hat, started off down the street again.  Speak!  Speak!  I couldn’t make any words come out, and as I watched him walk away, I thought all was lost, when, suddenly, my vocal chords realigned and harmonised my demand.

“Mr. Rush!” I screamed.  “My apple wants to see your plums!”

He stopped.  He turned.  He looked at me, panting, blood trickling down my forehead, having just screamed what, intelligible to me, was most likely lunacy to him, and, shaking his head, continued on his way.

That was the point when I lunged for his pants.

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

“What are you doing?” he cried, trying to fend me off.

Damn it, I thought – noticing that there was a drawstring – this would be harder than expected.  “Just stay still!”

“Let go, let go, you crazy imbecile, let go!”

I pulled and I tugged, but nothing would come of it, and yet he seemed to be resisting less, as if his mind was finally coming around to my idea.  I looked up to see his facial expression but he wasn’t focusing on me – rather he was reaching into his overcoat for something.  Was it a gun?  I had to be quick, I had to get his pants down now.  I screamed with frustration.  He screamed with rage.  I saw a flash of gold withdrawn from his overcoat.  He let out another battlecry and swung with all his might.  I turned just in time to see an Oscar-statuette hurtling towards my face, making a connection a moment later, sending me sprawling to the ground.

As my vision faded, I saw him walking away once more.  “Bloody critics,” he said, and, upon sheathing his Oscar back in his coat, chuckling to himself, murmured, “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

It was about half an hour later that I found myself on a stool in the Belvoir foyer draped over the bar, sipping a lonely glass of lemonade.  From what I could remember, I had stumbled into the theatre and told the ushers of my encounter with a gang of thugs on Bogan Hill, and had at once collected their sympathy.  The lemonade was on the house, of course.

As I sat there I mourned the loss of my review – it is the lot of the critic to wish to redefine in every article, but nothing scares redefinitions away more than putting pen to paper.  My groundbreaking analyses would be impossible to write – I had nothing to base it on, so I would have to settle for second best, as I always have.  Perfection is forever a perfect distance away.

Next to me, a rather attractive young woman was sobbing.  Not that it was the sobbing that was attractive, her mascara inking her face.  I finished the lemonade off and pushed it towards the rather rotund man behind the bar, currently engaged in drying a stack of glasses.  “Hit me.”

Poprishchin (Geoffrey Rush)

As he poured the lemonade he looked towards the woman.  “Sorry about her – I had to sack her coworker today because he spiked a customer’s drink and she’s upset about it.  God knows why.”

“Why?” she moaned.  “Because he didn’t deserve to be fired!  He didn’t spike the drink, it was corked!”

“That’s not up to you to decide,” the man replied, smiling apologetically at me.  “Plus all the wines here are screwtops.”  The woman let out another sob, sniffed as daintily as possible, and ran into the back room.  “Women,” said the man, rolling his eyes.  I wasn’t entirely sure what he was implying, but I gave a faint smile of agreement.

“So,” he said, “beaten up, eh?  But at least you got to see the show beforehand.  Fantastic, yes?  Everyone’s been raving about it.”

I took a gulp of my lemonade.  “It was quite good.  Not great.”

“Hard to please, eh?” he said, laughing and slapping me on the shoulder, and returning to his glass-drying.  “Cheer up, mate, the world’s not gonna end tonight.”

Statistically his argument was quite convincing, but I wasn’t in the mood for mathematics.  I left my glass of lemonade half-drunk and thanked him for the charity.  All I wanted was to sink into my bed and stay under the water for the next month.  But as I made my way to the street, I heard a loud bang and saw the door to the back room flung open, the woman striding out with some sort of implement in her hand, though I couldn’t make out what it was.

“Tell me,” she demanded, brandishing what was in her hand in front of the man’s face, “tell me, if, like you say, all our wine bottles are screwtops, why the hell do we have a corkscrew?!  What kind of bar keeps a corkscrew if it doesn’t need it, huh?  Huh?  Well?!”

“What is wrong with you?” shouted the man as I moved out of earshot.  “God, it’s like a bloody madhouse in here today!”

8/10.  The Diary of a Madman by Nikolai Gogol, adapted by David Holman with Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush, at Belvoir St Upstairs Theatre until 6th February.  Directed by Neil Armfield.  With Geoffrey Rush and Yael Stone.  Music by Alan John (After Mussorgsky).  Set by Catherine Martin.  Costume by Tess Schofield.  Lighting by Mark Shelton.  Sound by Paul Charlier.  Musicians – Paul Cutlan and Erkki Veltheim.  Photos by Heidruhn Lohr.

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Written by epistemysics

February 5, 2011 at 10:15 am

Posted in Theatre Reviews

4 Responses

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  1. “I couldn’t. I was starstruck. All that came out was a kind of rasping gurgle, as if someone was flushing something particularly viscous down a toilet.”

    I unintentionally met Geoffrey Rush outside of Belvoir, resulting in both this an an extremely embarrassing accidental high five with a friend. I still didn’t get to see Diary, though…

    Alejandra Herron

    February 5, 2011 at 11:21 am

  2. In full flight Mr E – challenging to those of us who like to think we are in a hurry – but worth being forced to slow down – this is you at your original best – well done – fiction and criticism combined – the forms have to go somewhere to stay alive – I like the direction you are heading in xx

    James Waites

    February 5, 2011 at 9:54 pm

  3. I’m curious as to how this ‘accidental high five’ came about, Alejandra – I’m struggling to imagine what the situation must have been. All I can think of is that you and your friend were both hailing a taxi at the same time from opposite directions and leaned towards each other, arms in the air, and did the high five. (Am I close?)

    And thanks for the kind words, James, though I’m not sure why you think the above is fiction – I have the AVO from Geoffrey Rush to prove it! (And, coincidentally, his autograph as well.) 😀

    epistemysics

    February 7, 2011 at 3:32 am

  4. It was some slightly uncomposed simultaneous flailing. We save the synchronised cab hailing for the drunk olympics.

    Alejandra Herron

    February 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm


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