going to the theatre

I saw some plays last Thursday; 6 ten-minute plays by teachers at mulberry (rachel's) school. I haven't seen live theatre for ages, and the kind of rough slightly improvised feel of the drama was well good. They were readings really, as in, acting with a script in hand – they were real, as in professional, actors, so weren't going to give up too much of their time to hawk their living for free (I'm not saying this as a criticism, it's good that they would do it at all). Mulberry is the first school I have heard of to have a playwright in residence, and he has undertaken a course for several of the teachers, the end result being this evening in the half-moon youth theatre in limehouse, where I found myself loading up on free wine and Bombay mix among a diverse flock of teachers.

The first play was titled 'I hate how much I love you'. A woman walks out on a man because he's rubbish, irresponsible, flirty, and never acts like he cares. Months later, he turns up on her wedding day, seduces her with 'but I love you's, then promptly fucks off again. Yet months laterer, she surprises him on his birthday outing with news she's up the duff with his kid, and it must be his because her marriage is unconsummated. She 'hates how much she loves' him, but there's nothing she can do. Is there. Because that's how love works. I needed to know how we were supposed to feel; it matters to me whether the author's own sympathies lie. I thought this was a tragic play, full of awful and stupid characters; but that doesn't mean it's a bad play. It's a drama; you don't have to have a happy ending, or even any section of the story. If it's well written and performed, it's valid art, regardless of what happens in it. If I hate the characters, who seemed oblivious to the fact that their lives suck and it's their own fault and they can change, then that's fine. I got to talk to the author of this one, and was as confrontational about it as I need to be.

The second started weirdly with some mimed props, leaving a few minutes before you worked out where it was supposed to be. A family-outcast lady was down the charity shop looking for clothes that would still fit when she got 'a lot bigger'. The play was a dialogue between these two women, the first effectively a down-and-out (not the good kind of squatter) prostitute (hinted at) but with a veneer of 'I don't need your help' pride, and the other a volunteer and person who genuinely wanted to help. It was all about the clash between them, both accusing the other of game-playing with the situation, and given the passion and reason, I really couldn't tell what the author was trying to tell us, which made me like it; right up to the point where the pair finally managed to agree on something, but only implicitly: the pregnant woman wouldn't have an abortion (despite the misery she was about to inflict on her baby) and the help-character secretly-obviously regretted having hers. So it appeared the whole play was about 'abortion is wrong in any situation'. Which teethed with me a little bit.

The third took some traditional am-dram themes – retards and violence – and didn't really do anything else with them. Two thieves – one an idiot, the other his friend/egger-on – have brought an old man back to their flat, and try to extract his credit card pin by force. I didn't find much of a point to this one – but despite the slightly implausible story, the author somehow did manage to fulfil the 'write about what you know' rule, being a special needs teacher. Which does make it more interesting. I initially wrote off the play as ridiculous and silly, which I still think, but I can't criticise her use of the retard because she actually knows what she's talking about with it. and that just leaves too many variables for me to think through. Damn her hide.

Then there was an interval and we refilled our cups with the wine.

The second half opened with the fourth play, complete with comedy west Indian accents. Considering everything else in the night had to be imagined, even genders in this (and another) case, this seemed a little unnecessary, as good as they were (they weren't actually comedy, it just sounds better). maybe there was something in the script that had to be pronounced a certain way to carry over; and anyway, why not? In this situation, a head teacher was in dialogue with a parent whose child had had her hands severely beaten by an over-zealous teacher, after the child had mooed at her in class. The head was adamantly defending her, while conceding that the school would pay for the healthcare. You just wanted the parent to launch over and hit her. And she did! hooray for happy endings. this one had a clear, agreeable message and comedy, while simple, which I suppose is a pay off.

Play number five was again a dialogue – ten minutes is really too short to have more than two actual characters. Again, annoyingly, we had to figure out exactly what the relationship was between the two characters through their dialogue – or maybe that was part of the point, the confusion about who 'she' was, and how these two weren't friends, or brothers, they were lovers. It seemed the least pointful, the least messagey play; it was just about emotion. a man was leaving for the army, and working up to tell his mum. Along the conversation his boyfriend reveals he is pregnant – sorry no, he is hiv+. Women get pregnant; men get hiv. Right. most of the play deals with the emotional fall-out; "I want you to go and live your life" finally being exposed as a "please stay, I need you". In terms of drama, it was the first time I thought during the night, 'that was a really good silence.' It had the best pace, even if it may have been a bit soap opera.

And then came allison's play. I have to say that, because I knew it was allison's, despite not wanting to, and there's no way it won't have coloured my impression of it, so I need you to know that so you can understand the colour of my review. In all of the plays at some point, I thought 'this is actually really good'. And in retrospect, I don't remember the actors holding scripts, although I know they were. I don't think they really needed them. However, in allison's play, occurred the first time I thought 'this is actually really well written' as well. It was similar in some ways to the first one, but more reasonable. The characters were more mature and believable (I'm afraid that might be a metaphor for 'middle class'), and it had a good balance of observation, comedy, and drama.

so it was a really good evening. then we went to the pub and got even drunker, and then went home. teachers rock.
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