Friday, 2 December 2011

My Dinner with Andre

I watched a DVD of My Dinner with Andre last night. The film,directed by Louis Malle, consists of a conversation over dinner between Wallace Shawn, an actor and writer and his friend Andre Gregory. The first long section concerns an account of a bizarre acting class which took place in a forest in Poland. I think the director Jerzy Skolimovski is mentioned as having organised this for Andre. Jerzy directed Moonlighting, of which more another time. Spookily, in the course of a riff about whether theatre is still capable of delivering a level of experience capable of changing hearts and minds, Wallace Shawn cites Gordon Craig, who I had been writing about earlier in the day.

The house in south Lanarkshire where I lived until I moved to Moffat two years ago overlooks Watermeetings, where Sir Henry Irving and his partner Ellen Terry, giants of the Victorian stage, used to stay with their entourage: Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl, Ellen Terry's secretary who ran her fan club, thought to be the world's first), Bram Dracula Stoker, Henry Irving's secretary and Ellen’s children, her daughter and illegitimate son Edward Gordon Craig (surname plucked whimsically after his mother saw Ailsa Craig the volcanic core rock nicknamed Paddy's Milestone, one of the world's two sources of curling stone granite, sitting off the coast of Ayrshire) whose portrait can be seen hanging in the foyer of the Moscow Arts theatre. Craig was the most celebrated theatre designer of his time. Their presence as a touring theatre company in Scotland was directly due to religion. Severe post-reformation Scotland abjured theatre, (indeed Christmas itself was first celebrated only in 1947 as a public holiday in Scotland, when shops such as Jenners began tentatively to put Christmas scenes in their windows) so the only theatre was provided by touring companies such as Henry Irving’s.There is also quite a lot of talk in the film about Findhorn, the eco community in northern Scotland. There is a comical aside by Gregory about a university production of The Bacchae that brought to mind a tragi-comic episode in my own life. Towards the end of my second marriage, on the occasion of our wedding anniversary we booked tickets to see a play at the National Theatre. When I arrived, my about to be ex-husband broke the news to me that for some reason that play had been cancelled and we had been offered (and he had accepted) tickets for The Bacchae instead. Connoisseurs of classical drama will know that the plotline of The Bacchae is the savage pursuit and dismemberment by enraged female spirits (the Bacchae of the title) of the protagonist. Ahem.

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