Saturday, 27 August 2016

Les Misérables. Captivate Theatre. Wow.

I am now going to attempt the impossible. To convey to you something of the profound experience that was Captivate Theatre's production of Les Misérables.

We sat front row, I was on the aisle, my feet touching the steps to the stage. I felt the stage move as Javert and Valjean fought and the students sang 'Red and Black', as the fighters sweep past me, catching me up with them, to the barricade.

I cannot adequately express what I feel in response to this performance. We sat outside in the sunshine, in silence, in wonder, for a while afterwards, revelling in the moment.

In no particular order, here are the moments I remember, to which I want to hold on.

Alex Gavin as Gavroche owned the stage, owned Javert in the moment of uncovering him as a spy, having watched him intently, the only other character on stage, as he sang 'Stars' (I hope I've got that last moment right). The staging of Gavroche's death was brilliant: Gavroche himself behind the barricade, his singing of his dying lines full of courage, defiance, cheek. We could not see Gavroche, but we could see every fighter on the barricade, listening, watching, agonising, grieving.

Samuel Stevenson and Megan Gardiner as Marius and Cosette watched each other through one of their songs, in which Eponine and Valjean also sing their story line. Gardiner gave the often two-dimensional Cosette depth, and her voice. Her voice. Stevenson's 'Empty chairs at empty tables' was full of grief, loss, the gratitude for life mixed with the guilt of the survivor, in a fraternal commitment to remember.

The Thénardiers (Eoin Mullan & Sally Cairns) did not disappoint with the vulgarity and comedy and everything their characters should be. Comic timing, the costuming and make up fabulous, just right. And their guests were so wonderfully in the moment, so as to not steal the spotlight, but rather build the scene with vitality, as they joked with one another, talked to their friend the bottle, and swung a maid over a shoulder.

The use of effects on the microphones, to strip back or add depth and resonance worked well. Fantine's singing to Valjean in his dying moment had an ethereal quality that supported the moment. And her rising from her death bed, the soul departing earth, as young Cosette entered the stage, looking to her castle on the cloud / the departing Fantine - magic.

Éponine's (Anna Macleod) 'On my own'. Just right with the mix of almost spoken, emotion-laden acting and floating, dreamlike wistfulness at the love that will never be requited.

Enjolras, played by Matthew Wilson – I would follow him into battle. Grantaire - there was a moment, when Marius was singing about Cosette, to the annoyance of Enjolras and the amusement of the others, when Peter Goddard as Grantaire says, 'sit down Marius'. For me, this was one of the moments that made what was happening on stage feel like it was not happening on stage, but that we were there, in that place, as the story was unfolding.

Every single character was present in every single moment, their emotions responding to the dynamics between them all. Oh, they were aware of the audience, but they were immersed in the story with their whole being, each one; and we were thus drawn in. A strong, committed, generous ensemble performance.

Mark Scott's Javert was one of the best I can remember seeing. Even with the counterpoint between Javert and Valjean by Fantine's hospital bed cut from this version, Scott played Javert's loss of self in the face of Valjean's mercy so that I understood it. His line, 'in saving my life, he killed me even so', made sense; as did, for the only time I can recall, his suicide. He was playing that descent into madness long before we saw it in his despairing pull at his hair. Scott's final note, Javert singing 'home' ...

I've been putting off speaking of Keir Ogilvy's Valjean directly, for fear of overbearing superfluity. In 'Bring him home' we witnessed a man praying; I don't recall any other actor giving me that experience. Ogilvy's singing of that was some of his best singing for me. It reminded me of Colm Wilkinson's Valjean.

With no make up or costuming or props, only within himself, his presence, his carriage, Ogilvy conveyed Valjean at the different ages. He was, by the end, an older man, though Ogilvy can't be far into his twenties, if that. I loved the love with which he sang, yes, command me to live, I will obey, to Cosette.

He carried the weight of Valjean's 19 years in prison, his striving to be the better man the priest challenged him to be, with what, I suppose, could be called gravitas. (The priest, by the way, whose actor is not named in the program, had a wonderful poise and presence about him, too, that I very much enjoyed.)

Valjean is my favourite thing about Les Misérables, the story. Ogilvy was my favourite thing about this production. I cannot tell you how much joy it gave me to witness his embodiment of this profound and complex character. To hear him sing.

I cannot express how much joy it gave me to experience this production of Les Misérables. I was, in all honesty, captivated, from beginning to end.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

'I covet your prayers.' No, I do not think you do.

I have been pondering a phrase I have seen a few times recently: 'I covet your prayers.' Every time I see it, I ask myself, 'are we supposed to not covet, according to the commandments?' And I wonder, what do you mean?

The commandment, tenth in that list Moses received on the mountain (Exodus 20:17) is:
You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. (NRSV)

In other words, you shall not covet that which does not belong to you. So there's no danger of a woman coveting her neighbour's husband, because men don't 'belong' to women ... sorry, that's another blog post.

The Hebrew translated as 'covet' here, means to desire and try to obtain. The English word 'covet' carries the meaning of yearning to possess. The prohibition really is about property. Respect the property of your neighbour, avoid jealousy, greed, theft, deception, which are all things that flow from desiring and trying to obtain that which does not belong to you.

When someone 'covets' my prayers, then, perhaps they are desiring and hoping to obtain my prayers. But my prayers are not my 'property'; my prayers are available for offering on your behalf. Even so, can you really 'possess' my prayers? It would seem, then, that there is a semantic inadequacy about this language choice.

We use language to communicate. To say what we mean, however, is only half the equation in communication. To say something that will be received with the meaning we intend – now that is the aim. There is no denying that when someone uses 'covet' language, it carries more baggage than a desire and hoping to obtain prayers that are perfectly ok to desire and hope to obtain (though not 'possess'). So long has 'covet' been used in a negative sense, yearning to possess something that belongs to someone else, that to use it to express a request for the positive gaining of prayerful support and solidarity seems incongruent with its received meaning over time. It would also seem, then, that there is an overlooking of the cultural meaning received on hearing 'covet', when this word is chosen. 

I would like to encourage those who request prayers in the manner of 'coveting' prayer, to choose different language. I do not think you are saying what you mean; or at least, meaning what you are heard to say. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Words spoken, music woven

In a pub at the bottom of a narrow cobbled lane in Edinburgh, a lane whose existence I'd only discovered days ago because friends live there and I was invited for tea - such is the nature of hidden lanes in Edinburgh - Lou and I took our places on low bar stools directly in front of two microphone stands. That narrow space at the far end of the bar was filling quickly for the Harry and Chris Show, on the Free Fringe program (free to get in, but not free to get out!).

Harry and Chris. Simple Times. It's the name of the CD I bought at the end of the show, and a song. It aptly describes that hour in the pub, the whole afternoon really. Lunch in the sun and show in a pub, with a good friend for company. Simple times.

Amidst the turmoil of uncertainty and potential ground shifting beneath my feet, this afternoon retreat replenished my soul.
To listen to a friend's story.
To have my story heard.
To explore the questions and challenges we share
as artists pioneering with and beyond the church. To
pause for art, for words spoken to entertain, to engage,
to embody the simple and profound of our humanity.
To laugh. To smile the appreciation of deep within this
artists' heart, this poet's soul, this human being. Mmm.
To sigh acceptance for the gift as the music weaves
its thread between the words, highlights the silent spaces,
connects all gathered through our voices singing
together. Humanity. Poetry. Simple Times indeed.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Throwback Thursday: still crying.

Still. Even with plans to close down one detention centre, we are allowing the power of fear to diminish our power to love. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Midweek Musing. On dreams and debilitation.

The stress, the anxiety, the uncertainty and the waiting have finally become debilitating: almost entirely debilitating.

It's the finances again. Thanks to generous patrons and donors, my everyday costs are covered each month. Thanks to two smallish scholarships, my tuition is covered to the end of the degree. Rent is paid to the end of the current contract – the end of this month. New contract begins September; deductions for rent begin October. I have no idea if I will have the money to cover it.

There may be a change in living arrangements to drastically reduce costs, but not till the end of the year. This change would bring with it an increase in obligations each week. I do not know if I have the capacity to take that on. The stress and uncertainty of my financial situation these past two years (on top of 15 years of student / part time precarious finances) has become almost entirely debilitating, physically, emotionally, mentally.

Results from a third round of blood tests will take weeks to come back. Tests that are searching for a reason for symptoms that are difficult to describe or explain. * The sweats and overheating for no reason. The exhaustion to the point of muscles aching terribly. Clumsiness. Insomnia. Nausea. Inability to concentrate. Little trifling colds and viruses, snuffly nose and itchy throat. All. The. Time. Nothing from the tests in November. Something small and almost insignificant in June. Enough to follow up. What will August bring? The waiting, the raft of symptoms, are debilitating.

There is a scholarship I am waiting on. No amount stipulated, so even if I am successful, who knows if it will be enough, for 12 months, or five. Shortlisting was delayed from early July to late July, with an email to communicate the change in projected time line. It is mid August and I've heard nothing further. Have there been more delays? Did I not get an interview? Why have they not responded to my email last week asking for an update on progress? The uncertainty and the waiting have become debilitating.

A week overseas to play with fellow storytellers, performing, presenting, listening, learning. I felt well, if easily tired, but moved freely, participated joyfully.

A week back in Scotland of ordered (by my supervisor) rest and I slept well, went to shows, felt light and positive and able to fill the weekend with much activity.

Come Monday, when I was to return to PhD work, I awoke heavy, tired, aching in my muscles like I'd run a marathon; irritable, low, lethargic and unable to concentrate. I did press on to edit the paper for an upcoming conference, complete my annual review and do a little reading. Tuesday was even worse, though I managed to sit outside for an hour of sunshine and fresh air, writing up notes from marked pages from Monday's reading. I feel as though I am in chains, unable to move, hardly able to breathe.

They don't tell you – the mysterious 'they' – when following your dreams is so celebrated and encouraged, that the cost will be so great you might even regret having dreamed at all. That all the affirmation you receive from fellow storytellers and scholars, from church leaders and members, for a way of engaging with the Bible that affirms our full humanity will clatter and echo in the hollow emptiness of your despairing soul; no longer able to encourage and strengthen. Despair at no longer caring about this dream, this call, this project. Despair because it is too hard to keep convincing the bodies with the power and the money that this is worthwhile, that you are worth the investment; and now you can no longer convince yourself.

And you hardly dare admit to yourself (let alone anyone who might read your blog) that you are almost hoping the test results are just bad enough that you can't take the job; that the scholarship doesn't eventuate, so that you can pack your bags and go home. Because home is safe. And I have had enough of this risky place, demanding the courage and resilience you have admired. I have run out of both, and cannot fight for the means to stay any more.

When I acknowledged the risk in moving to Scotland on limited finances, I never imagined I would have so much trouble sourcing adequate funding. I did not foresee such constricting, debilitating, enduring stress. I am so disappointed that it has fallen this way. That all the joy has been so entirely sucked out of the dream.

* Please note that while comments are always welcome, this is not an invitation for suggested diagnoses or treatments.