Present from top row left to right: David Whitworth; Colin Ellwood; Sakuntala Ramanee; Dom Shaw; Susan Raasay; Jamie Newall; Kevin McMonagle; Julia Winwood; Fran Olivares; Rob Pomfret; Simon Furness; Larisa Munoz; Valerie Gogan/Simon Usher; Emmanuela Lia
I'd Rather Be Eaten By Dogs
Great contrast last Friday (29th May), reading another play by Chilean writer Carla Zunega, following on from the great experience of her The S.A.D. Summers of Princess Diana a few weeks ago. This time we read her 2017 I’d Rather Be Eaten By Dogs, again in translation by Fran Olivares (who again was able to join us for the session). As with Diana this play is based on a real-life incident, and follows attempts by young lesbian and sometime-prostitute Eugenia to get therapy for a traumatic incident experienced ten years prior when working as a nursery nurse, and which may or may not have featured a potted plant. But her chosen therapist wants nothing to do with her and has her own traumas to deal with. Meanwhile Eugenia’s imaginary ‘friend’, in the form of the father she has never met, is giving her a very hard time indeed, including suggesting that there may be more imaginary people in her life she hasn’t noticed. Eugenia’s mother hates her and wishes she hadn’t been born, because of her sexuality. As a coping mechanism, Eugenia also has a habit of breaking into houses and hiding in closets in a bid to feel close to people and ‘normal’. She targets one particular house and family, connected to the trauma of the ‘plant’….but also, now, the house of her therapist. In a bid to get rid of her, the therapist suggests pills, but for Eugenia, their effect would not be ‘real’. However her current state of reality is pretty unbearable, and in any case may not be real either (c.f. the plant, and the possible proliferation of imaginary associates). No-one wants to know Eugenia, and everything she tries turns to disaster. Bystanders get inadvertently shot, an entirely unconnected therapy client is pushed towards another suicide attempt, all as collateral damage in her wake. On one level the play is a deadpan exploration of how bad it can get, an inexpressive-expression of terrible, raw, emotional pain. But on another, the immiserated haplessness of Eugenia and indeed of just about everyone else yields the blackest of black comedy, and generates hysterical laughter at its unremitting awfulness. If Eugenia’s world didn’t feel real to her, the experience of reading the play felt very real to us, very fresh and alive, very difficult to ‘compartmentalise’. Carla Zunega is a genuinely original theatre voice, a poet of misery, perhaps (taking this play in tandem with Diana.). She seems to find a poised beauty and dramatic inevitability in the bleakest of experiences and through the flattest of voices. Its as if a trained dancer, with exquisite technique, were embodying a classical tragedy while heavily tranquilised. You laugh because you don’t think you should be laughing: at the disjuncture between the material and the voice; at the haplessness of the characters, stunned into clumsiness and casual cruelty by their pain. In Dogs for example a suicidal young man so unhappy that he draws a picture of his imaginary friend on a wall so that he can shoots him too in a suicide pact. The play ends brilliantly, ambiguously, offering hope...or is that ironic, or imaginary…? It’s a kind of boldly free-floating ending, only partly connected to the remorseless dramatic logic and measured unfolding of what has gone before. If it is ‘real’, the route to it is not fully explained. That in itself is wonderfully bold dramaturgy
A Night Out
I really enjoyed and completely related to poor Albert in A Night Out. Pinter’s exploration of male territorial combat is anthropological. It reminded me of the unwritten 'gang rules' in the Army or Public School: same wine, different bottles. I’d forgotten the ending and thought he was going to murder her. Male fear is under the microscope in this play. Outsiders want to join the insiders but deep down they remain outsiders. Simon Furness on the reading of Pinter's A Night Out
Zunega’s play features mainly women characters and a comparatively powerless young woman as central character, and the most negative voice in the play is male: her (imaginary) father. In Harold Pinter's short 1960 television script A Night Out, the protagonist is a comparatively powerless young man, and the negative controlling voice here is his mother. So our second read contributed a certain gendered symmetry to the session. Albert is a young office worker, still living at home, and tonight intent on attending a co-worker’s retirement party, in the process escaping the controlling attentions of his recently-widowed mother. Clearly, there would be a case to be made for the loneliness and anxiety of the mother, but Pinter doesn’t make it. Instead we witness her devices and tricks intended to guilt trip poor Albert into staying home. He escapes, but at the party is wrongly accused of ‘touching’ one of the office girls. Women, eh? Always causing or being the cause of problems for us men, seems to be the general tenor. Having also anatomised the absurdities and contortions of male office rivalry and mating rituals, Pinter then follows Albert back home to his mother. But her nagging at his late return provokes him into taking the clock that validates her attempted regimen ‘into his own hands’ and he, well, 'clocks' her with it, with possibly fatal results. Subsequently wandering the late night streets, he ends up in the bed-sit of a girl who has casually picked him up. In this deeply ambiguous encounter he threatens to repeat the offensive clock-action. Having achieved a kind of double-temporal revenge against the female gender, and perhaps having also reclaimed control, via clock-as-offensive-weapon, of the ‘time’ necessary for male regimentation and professional punctuality (I'd note that Pozzo's watch in Waiting for Godot is an emblem of status and control, until of course it stops working...), he returns home to find his mother very much alive, and bashed but also unabashed. Like Zunega’s, the play is partly a deadpan delineation of hapless interpersonal cruelty and bathetic power manoeuvring amongst the fundamentally powerless. For Pinter, though, a certain anger at women seems to be at work. In the play’s favour are the wit and precision – and the recognisable accuracy - of its portrayal of male power manoeuvres and guarded friendships. And the scene with the girl in the bedsit is on a different level, harking forward to later, more mature Pinter, exploring a mutual territory of loneliness and defensiveness with delicacy and genuine strangeness.