Teatime. The conversation was lurching around like a gnu on LSD.
“So, Maddie,” my eight year old son asked his elder sister: “Pick a landmark. Any landmark you like.”
Maddie chose The Angel Of The North, that rather unsettling post-modern 20-foot sculpture of a man with airplane wings which presides over the A1 at Gateshead.
“If you could do anything with it – anything at all,” continued Felix, magnanimously throwing the gates of possibility wide, “what would you do?”
Maddie considered briefly. Finally she announced that she would put it in a museum.
“What about you, Mum?” my son continued.
“Stonehenge,” I rejoined. “And I’d glass the whole thing over so people could get closer to it.”
The children nodded sagely. What their mother had suggested was deemed A Good Idea.
“Well,” Felix grinned, the limelight his at last; “I would buy the Sydney Opera House, and I would turn it into a cinema. It would have all the seats – you would only need to take out the stage and put in a cinema screen and you’d be ready to go!”
The Sydney Multiplex.
It didn’t have quite the same ring to it as its current incarnation.”Wow!” I nodded brightly, if non-commitally.
The conversation meandered on, but I couldn’t leave it there.
“So, Felix,” I ventured after what I considered a timely interval, “would you rather watch a film or see something on stage?”
Well, stage, obviously, said Felix.
“And what if you could see the same play as a film, or in front of you on a stage: what would you choose?”
He chose a play. And when I asked why, both he and Maddie were almost lost for words. The closest Maddie could get was “Mum, they’re not there when it’s a film. When it’s a play you’re there with them, and they are there with you. It’s exciting.”
You are there with them, and they are there with you.
The newest incarnation of The Globe, built on the banks of the Thames just next to the Millennium Bridge, has recreated the breathtaking days of early English Theatre.
Acting on a formal stage was fairly new to England at the time of the first Globe, and folks thronged across the river on ferries and London Bridge, paying to stand under the sky, just down the road from the bear-baiting, to watch actors summoning who knows what magic to enchant their audiences?
I would have loved those seats closest to the stage where anything might happen and much did: where the food sellers and the ladies of the night alike cruised the people in search of hunger or boredom.
It is an actor who expresses the immediacy, the bare-faced electricity when one sits in Sam Wanamaker’s reconstruction: “I guess The Globe has taught me even more respect for it,”wrote Mark Rylance in the Sunday Express, back in 2002,”Here, you are aware of how much Shakespeare kept the audience in mind and what a difference there is when an actor is able to do that too…
“Often all the energy has to come from the stage – everyone else is in darkness, passive in their seats; but here, the audience isn’t divided by darkness from the actors. That makes them integral to the action – as powerful, if not more so, than the players.”
Being an observer in the presence of someone who becomes someone else: it’s really quite transforming. Mystical, almost.
And it has been since ancient times.
Since Dionysus, in fact.
Not a tame Greek God, that one. Gestated in Zeus’s thigh, some stories say; others claim he was raised as a girl to protect his identity; nurtured by rain-nymphs who were rewarded for their care by a place among the stars of the heavens.
Exceptionally attractive, though. Magnetic. A charismatic god touting a cult of wine, known alternatively as liberator; as ‘he who unties’; and in Macedonia, as “false man”.
We’re back to that old chestnut: to be ‘false’ – to become someone else – is liberating. Occasionally, consuming.
He it was who inspired theatre and the first false men: who lent his identity to the theatre of Dionysus, and who fuelled a cult where men lost themselves entirely to ecstasy, and to something larger beyond their understanding.
With such ancestry it is little wonder that any theatre stage can beat a film screen hollow.
After our chat, Felix has decided that perhaps the Sydney Opera House should remain the Sydney Opera house.
And we have all concluded that the sparks which fly unseen through a theatre are unsurpassed: a nonpareil.
None of us can wait to return to hear the creak of those boards once more.
Do take a look at some of the other great writers in the bloggers’ collective to which I belong: There’s a duck on a fence and some dry wit at The Good Luck Duck today; my great friend Brett takes your breath away with a luminescent glowing soul at Surface Nuisance; and for Provence at its most seductive, there’s Earlybird at Mangetout and other Stories. Her olive harvest was such a joy to read.