Walking to Waterloo

I pulled a drunk out of the road yesterday. He had fallen there through some roadworking bollards. Such was his stupour, he thought I might be mugging him or, indeed trying to engage him in some kind of sexual relations. Or both. So he tried to kick me, before collapsing again and going to sleep on the pavement, outside Waterloo station.
Aside from the sheer wonder that someone could drink so much, I was struck by just how many passers-by stopped to ask whether the guy was OK. Indeed, during the fracas, at least five other people stayed to check that both he and I were alright. Including a tramp. This is a stark contrast to the stereotype of Big City London, where (the myth has it) commuters stare down at their feet and walk past burning stab victims.

Faust in Wapping

I can feel sweat in my groin as I stagger through the gates and out of the wasteland. The air cools my face, but my baggage weighs me down and I am heavy on my feet. I am alone again, and immediately the images I have left behind begin to distort and fade.

The bar is too familiar. People from other parts of my life appear right in front of me. How is it possible that they be here too? Sometimes they recognise me, and sometimes they ignore me. Either way, they disappear just as quickly. With no-one to talk to, I turn around and give the musicians my attention. Their fashions, and the décor of the room, have been carefully picked. Observing the other clientele, I see they are totally credulous. With their hats at jaunty angles, it is clear that their outfits have been carefully chosen too. It is as if they are just playing the part of illicit revellers in this underground den. The feeling of solitude returns as I begin to think that this is just another installation.

Through the door, and suddenly we find ourselves outside, walking through a field. The masked faces in the crowd carry me with them like a wave. No time to stop and think about what we have just seen.

The man is already naked and lashed to the chair when I arrive. The crowd know that this is wrong in so many ways, but their masks hide whatever it is they might be thinking. We are all free to jostle for a better view of this ritual, his exposure. His tormentor circles with apparent menance… but is that a glint of benevolence in his eye? Peering through this mask and the wire fence, I cannot be sure. Two hundred white faces look on, without emotion, as the man in the chair is beaten, tortured, broken over the back of the chair. His adversary flies around him like a bat.

Whatever happens next, it is never what I expect. A man abruptly eats an apple handed to him by a woman – He devours it whole and complete, including the core. Then he pours a jug of water over himself (and me), and tries to ravage her. She just laughs, and conceals herself under the blanket.

These grotesque masks bring out a feral side. Women scamper past me down corridors like rats. Men push open doors and barge past me. And they do so with such purpose of stride and movement, I begin to wonder whether they are fellow voyeurs like me, or perhaps undercover performers. And yet even I am changed. I don’t run like the others… but I become a kind of sociopath, wilfully invading the privacy of the rooms I find. I steal sweets from a jar that is clearly not meant for me, and rip a bible page off the wall. When I find some cards on a table spelling the word ‘SLOTH,’ I change them to read ‘SLUT’. I follow a girl into a hotel room, and sit on the bed while she undresses.

I ignore the ostentatious coffin of baby, which is easy to find, and head to the upper floors. I spend delightful clandestine moments alone in a labyrinth of corridors and side rooms. I learn to turn the handle of every door I find. Most are locked, but every now and then a few open for me, and I slip into the darkness. I find an archive, with rows and rows of shelves stacked with identical files. A single lamp struggles to light the whole room, but only I am looking.

These people seem to defy gravity, as they pirouette across walls and ceilings. In a roadside diner, somewhere in Small Town America (I know where we are, because the waitress wears roller skates), a man chases a woman under tables and over the counter. She welcomes his advances, and yet somehow she fears him, and cannot allow him to come as close as she would like. This conflict persists throughout all the interactions in this place. Lust strolls past me on the kerbside, but violence and resentment lurks in every dark corner. They jump out for a moment, and then disappear into the shadows, like a mugging.

Down in the bar, and there is a palpable apprehension among us all. We know we have bought into something we do not understand. We know we have taken a risk, but we are sure that we will be strong enough to resist the conjuring tricks of these people. But then they force these white masks onto our faces, and shove us into an elevator. Its grate smashes against the wall with a clatter that makes us all jump. I want so desperately to understand and unlock their plan for us, but when we are separated from one another, it is clear that this will not be possible. Things will happen that they will not show me. I hear laughter and screams echoing down corridors, and throughout, the feeling never leaves me that somewhere else, on another floor, there is some wild act of debauchery taking place, from which I have been excluded.

A set of winding stairs, and a weed-riddled track. Now I am at the same gates once more, but I do not recognise them. A burly man lets me in, as I sidestep a group of twitching, anxious youths. They offer me money for something I do not yet possess. I pass through, and although they clamour to follow, their path is blocked. And then I am alone again, standing outside a church. I have lost my sense of direction. I am late, confused.
I’ve just spotted some interesting writing on the performance by Patrick Judd at the London Theatre Blog. He also stole sweets…. I caught one of the last performances of Faust by the inimitable Punchdrunk. However, The Red Death Is Coming, so don’t miss it.

Attempts On Her Life

The National Theatre have today launched a micro-site for their production of Attempts on Her Life, which I am working on for Fifty Nine. There is an ambitious blog for audience reviews, and a short trailer which previews a couple of the scenes we have been working on.
And it is an ambitious production. Written by Martin Crimp, the play is billed as “a roller-coaster of late 20th century obsessions”. The ‘attempts’ deal with idolatory, fetishisation, and control.
Anna-Nicole SmithI think these obsessions have become particularly acute in the past few weeks. Anna-Nicole Smith was fascinated by Marylin Monroe. Just like her heroine, she died young and in the media glare. And just like Norma-Jean, she was objectified to the point of destruction. When we apply convenient euphemisms like ‘former Playmate model’ and ‘widow of the billionaire,’ we conceal the seedy truth: she was paid money by men who used her as an object for their own gratification. As the ever honest Onion put it, some seven years ago: ‘Anna Nicole Smith Awarded $450 Million In Nonagenarian-Fucking Fees’. We should feel uneasy about her life and descent into drugs and death. Instead we gawp, and then offer the judge in the custody case for her child a TV contract.
And always, always, the deceased woman is depicted in a red dress. Why is that?
Meanwhile, when Britney Spears chooses a haircut which does not fit with the conventional image of feminine beauty, she inspires more column inches and moral panic than when she drops her baby. Marina Hyde manages to stay above the fray as she discusses Britney’s hair in today’s Guardian supplement… along with some pertinent comments on Danielle Lloyds redemption via a series of underwear photos in Maxim, and a woman who, instead of living her own life, spends her time impersonating the obnoxious yet popular Naomi Campbell.
Another 20th Century obsession and (for me, at least) an overarching theme of Attempts On Her Life, is our relationship to The Screen. In many places, the show uses the language and conventions of TV and cinema to critique and satirise western consumer culture. Editing together the images produced, its hard not to be reminded of how pervasive these media are. It catalyses and magnifies these other obsessions. There is no escape from the larger than life icons that surround us. They are like an ever-present ambient noise, which we cannot help but absorb. No wonder there are legions of us who seek to be on The Screen for its own sake.
Continue reading “Attempts On Her Life”

Terrorist disrespects Islam

CCTV Footage of Yassin Omar (from the BBC website)A couple of London’s evening papers yesterday published pictures of Yassin Omar, alleged terrorist, caught on CCTV as he escaped London… dressed in a burka.
In the two versions of the story I read, in the Lite and the Evening Standard, there’s a detectable but unspoken subtext, which is that these garments somehow undermine the ability of the security services to keep us safe.
No more than other head coverings. Yet “criminal flees justice dressed in hoodie” (or motorcycle helmet, or baseball cap, or Halloween mask) is not front-page news, because pretty much every criminal will conceal his identity from CCTV cameras in such a way.
If the Burka is sacred to some people, then it is they who should be outraged in such a stunt. Indeed, Omar’s insensitivity suggests that his ideology (whatever it may be) is far removed from mainstream Islam. But “terrorist disrespects Islam” is not the message I get from either the Lite or the Standard.


Plenty of discussion on the blogs and in the media about the london bombings, this time last year, notably from survivors such as the irrepressible Rachel and the idosyncratic Dave Taurus.
The bombings were a terrible punctuation to a bizarre week. The previous Saturday, I had worn white and joined the Make Poverty History march, along with thousands of others. It was a hot day, and we stopped half-way round to have a pint on George IV Bridge. We chatted to a couple who had taken a bus from Bristol to join in the event. The G8 summit was about to start, and there was a feeling of optimisim in the air. It was genuine.
Watching the ‘Live 8’ highlights on TV that evening, and later that week when another concert was staged at Murrayfield, it seemed to me that those events had a certain falseness. Jonathan Ross and his interviewees kept talking about what an historic concert Live 8 would be, before it had even begun. The whole event was a paean to the original Live Aid concert, a consolation prize for those who had missed it first time around. I remember saying that you cannot package and market those moments that will define a decade, and that history has a certain spontenaity – it does not take place at a pre-arranged meeting point.
Of course, the following day four guys went straight ahead and made some real history, at their own pre-arranged meeting point. Not only did they destroy lives and property, but they destroyed the sense of optimism, a rising tide of political activity and awareness, that had been swelling over the previous week. And do you know what? One year on, I don’t think we have regained that momentum. Instead we flounder in scandal and misdirection.