Commitment versus Accomodation
Friday 20th November
Present: (Row by row from top left, above) Susan Raasay; Colin Ellwood; Zara Tomkinson; Jamie Newall; John Chancer; Kevin McMonagle; David Whitworth; Simon Usher; Emmanuela Lia; Emily Essery; Charlotte Pyke; Valerie Gogan)
Last week, symbolism from Maeterlinck and then in the Bonhoeffer, a visit from a mysterious stranger who may or may not represent death. Here, Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea is surely a collision between symbolism and realism, with the former represented by a visit from another stranger. This time, he embodies something primal and obsessive that threatens to draw central character Ellida away from her fragile and compromised marriage back to the obsessive self-loss represented by the sea. We sampled various translations live but ended up reading the very first English, Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor's from 1890. The elegance, poise and restraint of its period-specific language balanced delicately on the shifting primal currents beneath consolidated the sense of a fragile societal containment being put under huge strain by the pull of the 'stranger' undertow: collegiate civilization and compromise versus emotional intensity and purity; the multiple versus the unitary; to extrapolate further: constitutional accommodation versus instinctual dictat/imperative; democracy versus fascism; rationality versus religious faith and absolutism. The Stranger offers Ellida certainty in submission to emotion and elemental drive; her husband Wangel on the other hand offers the maintaining of a family, the delicate accommodating of opposing needs and trajectories; love as a nurturing rather than as a demand; maternal/parental love rather than the erotic. The 'light/life' offered by Wangel is 'ethical’...but can appear ineffectual, compromised, superannuated. Overall, it's perhaps Pentheus against Dionysus; Theseus against the Minator. The play is accordingly built around two ‘vertical’ poles: on the one hand the flag raised in the garden in Act 1, which represents the compromises of nationhood and ‘rubbing along’ with unshared secrets around a common denominator, a holding mechanism, a symbol of uncertain substance. On the other hand there is the tall lean frame of the Stranger, embodying something much darker. The play is also a disquisition on art – there are at least three artists in the play – the young would-be sculptor Lyngstrand who has intuition but no sense of the commitment involved in realising it aesthetically; the local jack-of-all-trades Ballested who spreads himself and his creative efforts with farcical thinness….and then Ellida herself, yearning to be in the grip of an obsession that deprives her of choice, and through which her life will become in itself her life's artwork. She ultimately (and implausibly?) stays with her ‘civic’ family after her husband makes clear that he accepts any decision she might make. The politics and psychology of that outcome surely need more exporation than the play allows. A long play, much longer than might be thought, since the central Ellida/Stranger/Wangel action is complemented/contrasted with the tragectories of Wangel’s two daughters from his first marriage and their relationships with on-off lovers, but very rewarding especially in the immediate context of its close contemporary the Maeterlinck, and its distanct descendant the Bonhoeffer read in the previous session
27/8/2021 04:17:03 am
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