Monday, 18 June 2012

I thought this was a comedy?

A long (four-hour) Sunday evening rehearsal, and I come away feeling completely wrung out.

We're working on the section of the play where everybody finally knows the situation. The wives know, the husbands know, and each knows that the others know... that they are (as far as they all know!) not in fact married at all. Now they need to deal with the emotional fallout of this possibility.

Annie is ecstatic - she glimpses potential freedom. Clara is furious - this simply bears out her existing low opinion of her husband's intelligence.

And Maria? Maria is uncharacteristically distraught. She's moved from relief that there is an explanation for her husband's strange behaviour, and determination to reclaim her mantle as The Perfect Hostess; but now she is faced with the possibility that her husband may actually feel differently about her due to the long-past (forgive the language) bureaucratic cock-up.

Thinking about this from the standpoint of my own (happy) marriage, I realised just how huge this is. If my own delightful husband of seventeen years' standing were discovered to be not my husband because of a technicality, we'd both laugh it off, rectify it, and dine out on the story. (Listening to the recording of our marriage service, it's actually true that the octogenarian priest who married us did not actually use the words 'they are now husband and wife', so...) However, if, as a result of this discovery, he turned round and said - in Joe's words - 'I won't tell you a lie, love... ever since I've known I'm not married I've felt most peculiar' - my world would fall apart.

Working through this difficult scene - with all the comedy it also contains - I commented "I didn't expect to find myself back in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf..." - my favourite role ever, back in 2009. In fact, that play is a drama-with-comedy - albeit a deeply black type of comedy; this is a comedy-with-drama. In both cases, that's what makes the plays so strong.

Polonius attempts to categorise the Players' style, and ends up with "tragical-comical-historical-pastoral". I reckon that's a fair description of many plays. Priestley calls this 'A Yorkshire Farcical Comedy', giving no clue about emotional challenges that lie within; but without those challenges, the characters would be far less believable. Many of my favourite theatrical experiences - as performer or as audience - have been those that leave the audience unsure whether to laugh or cry. Let's face it, in real life, we tend to do both in equal measure.


  1. Thought I'd posted a comment. Evidently not. Anyway, thoroughly enjoying this journey, so two comments won't go amiss if the first one ever comes back.

  2. Just to record that I am - of course - following your Blog avidly! The info is highly informative, the style a delight. This explains your recent reminiscence!

    Martha: I looked at you tonight and you weren't there... And I'm gonna howl it out, and I'm not gonna give a damn what I do and I'm gonna make the biggest god-damn explosion you've ever heard.
    George: Try and I'll beat you at your own game.
    Martha: Is that a threat George, huh?
    George: It's a threat, Martha.
    Martha: You're gonna get it, baby.
    George: Be careful Martha. I'll rip you to pieces.
    Martha: You're not man enough. You haven't the guts.
    George: Total war.
    Martha: Total.