Art, Anarchy and the inevitable post-show Autopsy…

Right, well, it’s over. I’ve done the debut of the show. Three times. In one week.

I can now settle back with a Barleycup and a chocolate digestive, take down my inspirational miniature Nestor Makhno shrine and definitively answer the questions i posed in the last post. So, just how many people will connect with a confessional outpouring about railway locomotives? None. Does anyone care about Canon Tyndale-Biscoe of Kashmir? Yes- someone had even gone to his school. Just how funny is an animated acetate of Captain Webb, pioneer cross-channel swimmer? Pretty funny, it would seem. And how much does it matter that these things resonate with, to put it generously,  varying degrees of relevance to the intial premise of the show- to whit, am I man enough to be a good father? Well, there’s mixed feelings about that one. Not least from me.

With the sterling help of Stonesy, rugged tech-wizard and, well, man with the keys to a recording cupboard, I laid down some tracks (as we professionals say) and thus, the day before the debut, hitherto-unthought of incidental music was created for the show. Just recordings of me picking out a spidery riff on the banjolele, but how effectively it turns watching a man struggling to get his hand up the arse of a dole-officer glove-puppet from an awkward agony to a measured moment of sublime beauty. And we sorted out lights and cues and everything, just like real theatre. it all worked a treat in Brighton. In London, the lack of a display on the in-house CD player reduced it all to a shambles of random music at random points, but by then I was slick enough to be able to deal with it in character. Which felt good.

We had good crowds in all three nights, and I fulfilled my promises to the Arts Council by faithfully putting out survey questionaires so peoples’ night out could be soiled slightly by having to do homework. Some got made into paper aeroplanes, yes, but a good number actually got filled in.  And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Rickety, yes. Under-rehearsed, definitely. But people laughed and applauded and generally and genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.

I think I overdid the politics a little bit. Not just one or two, but no less than four of the set-pieces within the show either concluded with, or expounded on, spontaneous proletariat and peasant uprising leading to a future Utopia with collectivised housing, mutual aid and extensive library facilities for the common good. Nothing wrong with that, I’d hope to hear you cry. But, well, not hammered home. What led to this? Well, days of pacing around cold streets and people’s back gardens, endlessly repeating lines until they took on an air of disconnected absurdity, last minute script changes and repeatedly deciding that it’s all meaningless shitThat’s what. it does things to a man. In this case, as a subconscious reaction to our apathetic times, I ended up channelling the thwarted revolutionary ambitions of a thousand faded ’80’s alternative cabaret wannabes. 

The show seemed to come in at about 1 hour and twenty minutes; so it needs at least 10 minutes shaving off before I’ll be happy with it. Lose a couple of anarchist battle-cries. Snappier change-overs. That’ll sort it.  Very few people seemed to find the length a problem though. Indeed, in Brighton, over two nights only one person needed to go to the toilet. And, as one person pointed out, Daniel Kitson is currently expecting people to sit through 1 hour 45 without a break. Ah, but THAT’S DANIEL KITSON… He can do that sort of thing being, well, popular and all that. Still, nice to have something to aim for.

Like I said in the previous post, it still feels like a work-in-progress, but then so am I so it’s inevitable, really. Though it wasn’t quite so much of one as I’d feared. It needs framing better, yes. The then-necessary Old Vic idea of doing a show about a dreamed-of, but unrealised, spectacular is what it’ll end up as- it suits the Brechtian tragi-comedy of Jonny Fluffypunk. It needs more regular referencing back to the initial premise- a father trying to live up to the adoration of his son. It needs tighter links. Appointing someone in the audience as the living incarnation of Buenaventura Durrutti, then never referring to them again, led to confusion and disappointment on the part of the night’s Durrutti. And some of the poems made me cringe as I read them, which is never a good idea when you’re a poet. But they’re already being changed, for the true artist never sits still.

But I’ve achieved all this in a spectacularly short time, whilst working, expecting a second child, trying to move house and, well, what could be colloquially called ‘life shit’. So, I’ve not done too badly. Now to take a bit of time out to, er, have the sprog, then it’s edit, re-edit, rehearse and try to get the damn thing touring. Funding applications, here we come.

And Tony and myself are already discussing the full-length ‘Nestor Makhno- The Musical’, a delicious George Gershwin romp about anarcho-communist insurgence in Southern Ukraine. There’s already a couple of veteran alt-cab musicians up for being involved. Tony’s muttering about Arts Council funding. It’s all go. But first off, we need a better title. How about simply Hulyai-Polye? Not as evocative as Chicago, admittedly. South Ukraine Story? Nestor & His Black-and-red Greatcoat? Makhno, get your trench-mortar? Answers on the proverbial postcard. And in a year or two’s time you’ll all be singing along. The hills are alive with the sound of gunfire.

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