Artistic Associate Colin Ellwood writes of introducing plays by Ramón del Valle-Inclán and Edward Bond to Presence's September Reading Group and of the echoes and parallels found there and in earlier work discovered within the circle of chairs.
A rich, absorbing and substantive Presence Reading Group session last Friday 30th September at our usual venue Calder Bookshop Theatre attended by some regular readers, a very welcome newcomer, and industry guests.
In the morning the great Spanish ‘surrealist/slash/realist’ Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s ‘Esperpento’ tragedy Bohemian Lights traced the nocturnal journey of an impoverished blind poet through the dangerous and politically-contested streets of 1930’s Madrid, in desperate search for a missing lucky lottery ticket; eliciting some very deft and insightful in-the-moment characterisations from the group. It rapidly became clear where a good proportion of recent Spanish drama finds its inspiration: Valle-Inclán is revered in Spain, much less well known in the UK. A couple of session back the group tackled the Russian pre-revolution symbolist Aleksandr Blok’s The Stranger, and there seemed to be in Bohemian Lights something of the same spirit, crash-landed here into a recognisably realist world of big-city small-hours vividness: One example of the resonances, connections and comparisons across texts and cultures that the Reading Group can uncover.
In the afternoon: a key component of Edward Bond’s sometime brawl with Shakespeare: his Lear from 1971. This Lear is obsessed with the building of a wall to keep enemies out, and Cordelia here leads a Maoist counter-revolution [more Bernie Sanders than Hillary, then]. Lear is befriended by the ghost of a gravedigger’s murdered son who becomes progressively more vestigial and agonised as public atrocities mount. There are so many things that could be said about this extraordinary work: it’s a stark, sharp-etched autopsy on the mechanisms and implications of social violence, through which clarifying, elliptical images and parables bubble like water through desert sand: ‘the giant must stand on his toes to prove he’s tall’. The shade of Valle-Inclán’s blind poet, ‘a mannered Andalusian; a poet of odes and madrigals with a classical blind head; a wandering philosopher with a spectral presence’ falls suddenly across the face of the mad-sane new-blind king…. each wandering their respective heaths, mythical or urban, real or imagined.
The intended appetisers: short duologues and ‘eclogues’ by New York Beat poet Frank O’Hara will have to wait……
Presence Reading Group sessions, held usually on the last Friday of each month, offer actors and invited guests the chance to explore, share and voice a range of scripts new, neglected and undiscovered; contemporary and historical; both in translation and from the domestic repertoire. Everyone present participates in the voicing of each play, so there is no separate ‘audience’, and the aim is always to share roles on an equal basis. No preparation is required: discovery in the moment is all. After every play, a brief discussion airs responses before we move on.
A great way to discover new repertoire, develop sight-reading skills and to share a passion for great drama and rich language.