Reviews - 18 April 1985
A review of the fortnight in Theatre, Music, Television, Radio, Opera, Books, Cinema
By Joseph O'Connor, Tom McIntyre, Conor Kelly, Michael Dwyer, John Fergusson, Gene Kerrigan, Aidan Dunne
Theatre - Moral Bankruptcy
Stephen Berkoff's play 'Decaadence' is a study of the English ruling class, that body of lords, lawyers and in-bred "lunatics which having coloonised and repressed almost" the whole world has now begun to slide into a sort of self-conscious, ridiculous cariicature of itself. The play exxposes through satire the ideoology of an infantilist, prejuudiced, class ridden society, where sexuality is reduced to a" sado-masochistic power game, where language is connstrained and cliched, where politics is seen in terms of keeping the "dirty, pcoffy, marxist, working class yobs" in their place.
The play centres around one night in the lives of two couples - Steve and Helen, Sybil and Les. We see the first couple moving through their decadent world of drunkeness, "gluttony, racism and fetishism being destroyed by the mores of the very society they have created and achieving pleasure from the pain. As a counter to this we see Les and Sybil (wife of Steve) who have also been made pathetic by that society without having enjoyed anything positive from it. Sybil is self-centred -because she knows that she must be to survive in an antiifeminist society. Les channels his feelings and emotions into terms of abuse and violence. He feels a need to prove his manhood and his love by macho threats and mindless vulgarity. Berkoff is addresssing himself to how the ideology of a corrupt society expresses itself in the sexual politics of that society, and he does it with confidence and perception.
Berkoff's ruling class couple live in a world which once was simple, where the lines of power were drawrr strongly enough to keep things that way. But their world and their values are under attack, not only from the "left wing bastards jealous as hell" that they fear so much but also from the inbuilt contradictions of their ideology which has led them into debasement and decay.
"These contradictions express themselves in the playas it becomes clear that things are mutating into their opposites, that the distinctions between things become hazy and connfused when seen from the bloated, atrophying standdpoint of an utterly immoral class.
We see, for instance, that this class perhaps more than any other participates in the de-naturalisation of women, that the ideology is one which sees having a woman who is conventionally beautiiful (in terms of male stereootypes) as being synonymous" with having a Porsche that you can afford to prang, or knowing the head waiter well enough to insult him. It is an ideology which confuses sexual possession with sexual relationship. In that sense, this play has strong feminist implications. We see at one point an utterly de-feminised packaged woman who is exxpected to be "demure on the outside/a whore on the innside" stepping straight from the pages of "Cosmopolitan" or some other crap" - a sexual status symbol in a world based on status.
The equation of sexuality and power is a constant theme in this play. Mrs Thatcher's appeal is so exxtreme, we are told, that "there isn't a man in England who wouldn't drop his y, fronts for that dame." Steve is advised to "drop a morsel or two in your old dame" (i.e. his wife) to keep her loyalty, to keep his power over her. "Don't fuck for love for fuck's sake," as Sybil says is very much the sexual maxim at work in the deecrepid world that Berkoff . .shows us. The play's explicit connection between hunting and sexuality is significant" in this regard. The pleasure comes from the pain- the pain inflicted on the Victim, but also the pain acquired in the sado-masochistic process. This is a world where sex is " power, where every weapon can be used to keep the upper hand strong and the upper lip stiff.
Technically, as well as thematically this play is suuperb. Berkoff's frequent use of rhymed dialogue is exxtremely striking and seems to work on several levels. Not only does the incongruity of hearing earthy anglonisms expressed in this neooShakespearean style add to the humour but in a sense the tension that this creates enncapsulates and underlines the contradictions in the lives and ideologies of Berkoff's chaaracters - the tension between formality and debasement. The set is simple and striking. The ability of the two actors extraordinary. Their accent, facial expressions, physical movements and, particularly in Berkoff's case, his miming ability and his real spontaaneous sense of comedy are little short of perfect.
The imagery is crisp and striking, the language earthy and effective. As we see Berkoff's characters luxuriaating in their cosy cocoon of drunkeness, debauchery and bourgeois self pity we realise that this is not just a play about two couples. It's one night in the lives of four people made pathetic by the social hierarchy that has moulded them - but it is a metaphor for whole lives and whole societies, a metaphor for an utterly corrupt class whose achievements in opppression and exploitation so far outweighed its achieveements in morality. It is a powerful, perceptive and deeply moral play.
Berkoff's play was preemiered in Ireland by Rough Magic in November 1984 and some of the major themes of 'Decadence' are paralleled in that company's current prooduction 'Victory' by Howard Barker. This too is a play about the moral bankruptcy of the ruling class but Barker is concerned with life in the England of 1600, the world of Charles Stuart, newly restored monarch, the sun king. 'But in this new world based - on old values we can see that things are not what they seem. The king is portrayed as a drunken, sadistic lecher being propped up - sometimes literally - by a small semiioligarchy of wealthy bankers and businessmen.
Yet the dead Mr Bradshaw who represents the side of the Protestant anti-monarchist insurgents is seen as a dour, unfeeling, pedantic man unnable to express himself emootionally or sexually. When his body is exhumed and hanged by the royalists his wife resolves to go to find it so that she can bury his remains again. Mrs Bradshaw's jourrney is, in a sense, the occaasion for a dramatic journey into the nature of revolution and social unrest, the ardency of political and religious affiiliations and the struggle beetween the good and evil in man ("the God and the shit" as John Milton uncharacterisstically says in the play).
On her journey the woman is threatened and raped by a Royalist cavalier. He has, he says, "come to master you like taking England back" Pagain, as in 'Decadence' the equation of sex, power and violence is striking - the woman, though, eventually accepts her rapist and, ultiimately, is able to dominate him, Not only is this totally unbelievable and, indeed, a dangerous concept but it is not really effective in underrlining Barker's main idea - a sort of theory of permanent revolution., "When the war is won," Milton says, "wage war ,on the victors. Every civil War must be the parent of another. 'Those given laurels praise then execute. And their executioners, when the time comes, execute them too. Any amount of war a man will take, will acquiesce in his 'own destruction even, provided that he knows 'the change takes place ... should we start there must be no finish. "
This idea of circularity and reciprocity is paralleled by the play's action. Mrs Braddshaw's journey begins and ends at home. When she reeturns she finds her daughter has begun to translate Braddshaw's tract "Harmonia Britttania" into English so the seeds of the next revolution are already being planted. A peasant woman complains c c ••• we came ... out this bloody field to chuck the bastard Stuart over ... ten years of killin' Spaniards, Scots an' Irish, an' for what? ... To COme back to this soddin' field again!" There is a sense of hopelessness, of .monotony but also a sense that permanent struggle may lead to freedom.
It is a confused play, the implications of which have not been fully worked out by Barker. Rough Magic's prooduction, though, is creative, and fresh. Almost all of the acting is good, especially Stanley Townsend's dessicaated debauched monarch and Anne Byrne's Mrs Bradshaw. The direction shows flair and courage, the set is imaginative, the lighting and sound subtle and competent. 'Victory' is an interesting and challenging piece of drama. At a time when these qualities are so lacking in Irish theatre, Rough Magic deserve to be supporrted.
Joseph 0 'Connor
• Taut Elegy
James Coleman's work is better known internationally than here in Ireland - we view our own with apparently ineradicable suspicion. What floes he do? The word installlation is much used in ressponse to that question, and It's as good a pointer as the next. Broadly speaking, his mode is to take over a space and instal there a series of images, visual images or audiooimages. Sometimes live perrformance is an .elernent, In that regard, Roger Doyle and Olwen Fouere, for example, have' worked in association with him-in recent years.
Thematically, at the risk ~f 'simplifying, a deal of his work has focussed on the myth of the hero, the impliications of that societally and in reference to the individual. :
In Box (1977), he examined the plight of one hero figure ðGene Tunney - locked in a kind of eternal return bout with Jack Dempsey, eternal and, incidentally, unresolved. In Strongbow (1978), he examined .our plight in relaation to an enduring image of the colonial hero. In a darrkened space, a spotlight picks out a full-size effigy of Stronggbow recumbent on his bier. A colour television set nearby shows a pair of hands, one red, one green, clapping. Again, there's no resolution. And the pressure is challenngingly on the viewer to interrpret, to extract a "meaning".
Guaire is characteristic Coleman in many ways. At the centre of the piece is another hero-figure in trouble. Guaire was a king of the early monastic period. He reigns in torment. He has disposed of a rival, Ceallach, by imprisoning him inside a tree, a fashion of crucifixion. The deed, however, haunts.' And something else haunts: a prophecy that Guaire'sreign will be short, and that he will be killed by one of his offfspring. These are the pressures which bind him dissconsolately to his throne, which, in effect, immobilise him. We are invited to view his struggle for mobility.
If the protagonist is typical Coleman, so is the space, a castle associated with the real Guaire: or, if not the castle precisely, the very ground where Guaire swaggered and, perhaps, learned wisdom. The audience wander the castle, eat in the castle, tune themmselves unconsciously for the theatrical encounter. The stones of the place work for Coleman, and, in particular, one stone adjoining a window in the reception area, This stone is being dutifully painnted by a male figure. To look more like a stone? Stabilise the building? Quesstion the, walls? The image works. We' climb a giddy winding-stair to the banquetthall where the piece will be enacted. En route, a solid seamstress: - instantly, I wannted her fantastical and desstructive. No matter. A giddy winding path.
Guaire: Olwen Fouere, her eyes totally masked - the blinkers of limited conscioussness? - portrays the king. Hers is a confident perforrmance, demanding the best she has to offer vocally. Her material, in essence, is a poem "for several voices, Guaire's voice centrally, the voice of the not - quite - disposed - of Ceallach, the voice of - a child who may be a usurper. The text is elliptical - but none the worse for that, a collage of dream-fragments, compelling by repetition, allmost by monotony.
The visual dimension is curtailed, clearly a deliberate ploy. On a screen behind Guaire we see a succession of images, most significantly - for me - the slow moveement of portion of a wall of the castle, an adagio cadence which, mundane to commmence, transforms to a fragile and tender-pictorial comment on a life in jeopardy (like all our lives), above all in jeoparrdy out of interior malady.
Guaire has its flaws: there are times when it withholds more than it healthily should, I felt it lacked a physical force, and it takes minimalist monochrone to a perilous extreme. Yet it has to be seen, above all for the taut elegy it essays and often captures. Aebhric Coleman's child is magnetic, Gerard Grennell's guitar eloquent. Design by Dan Graham and lighting by John Comiskey are cleanly efficient. And a last word on James Coleman. He's a poet of the theatre, working in a territory and in a style that's entirely his own. His accommplishment is to set our shaadows moving. Attend that crooked procession. And don't bring binoculars. You'll see more with the glimpse, especially if - as he does Øyou bravely acknowledge the hurt mind.
Books - Questions of Faith
"Let's go through Georgia' fast so we won't have to look at it much," mutters a characcter in one of Flannery 0 'Connnor's short stories. But this Georgian writer, who died at thirty-nine after almost two decades spent courageously fighting a progressively dissabling and incurable disease, looked at the backwoods of ,Georgia and the urban blight of neighbouring Tennessee with an unremitting and unnsentimental glare that prooduced an art of grotesque and profound comedy. Her subbject was serious: "all comic novels that are any good," she wrote, "must be about matters of life and death." And in the southern states of America, the Bible belt, mattters of life and death involve questions of faith. So the source of her comedy is the confused and chaotic forms of worship and credence, the multitude of sects and schisms, that continue to spread like bush fires through the old Confederate states.
Her characters - a cast of, preachers, prophets, gospel; lers, Bible salesmen, demennted and deranged Christians Xare almost mercilessly mocked. Almost, but not quite; for, Flannery 0 'Connor was a Catholic, "a Catholic pecuuliarly possessed by the moddern consciousness." The most, bitter, most satiric thrust of, her comedy is reserved for the defiantly secular: the social workers, teachers, wriiters and liberal humanists who consider religion a harmmful (or harmless) anachronism. Viewed from the standpoint of her orthodox theology, the hillbilly prophets and itinerant preachers may be grimly comic in their grootesquely formulated dogmas, but in the intensity of their obsession with the fall, reedemption and judgement and in the sacrificial fervour of their lives these touched spirits, mad outcasts, command her respect as much as they proovoke her amusement.
Her first novel, Wise Blood (Faber and Faber, £2.95) is the comic tale of one such, mentally deranged preacher. Hazel Motes, grandson of a ' wandering preacher who had "J esus in him like a sting," becomes, as a result of his war wounds, a literal antiiChrist. With the passionate ardour of a zealot, he founds his own church - the Church without Christ - and spreads his own gospel: "I'm a memmber and preacher to that church where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way ... it's the church that the blood of Jesus don't foul with redemption Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar. "
The book describes with awe and amusement Hazel's willful parody of the gospels. He is baptised in sin in the bed of a local prostitute. He delivers his sermon on the mount mounted on the bonnnet of a burst-up second-hand car. He has his disciples: one is a disaffected youth who works in the city zoo and steals from the local museum, with sacramental skill, the mummified remains of a shrivelled-up dwarf which he tries to induce Hazel to worrship; another is a guitarrstrumming Judas who borrrows Hazel's doctrines and betrays the anti-church for a few dollars. In the end the demented prophet of hatred blinds himself with quickklime and wears barbed wire, his crown of thorns, beneath his vests, all for anti-Jesus' sake.
Hazel believes his blood is wise because he rejects the supernatural ("Jesus is a trick on niggers. "); Flannery o 'Connor sees his blood as wise because, despite himself, he is possessed. He is, in a bizarre and distorted form, as holy as a saint and the novel in which he appears is, in its distorted magnificence, a work of bizarre beauty.
Everything That Rises Must Converge (Faber and Faber, £2.95) is a posthumous collection of short stories and conntains her most accomplished work. Where in the two novels the symbolic and sacramenntal images are sometimes yoked together in a violent symbiotic relationship, in these short stories they doveetail in a refined art of revelaation, an art as apposite to a devout Catholic as Joyce's art of the epiphany was to a lapsed Catholic. These nine short stories offer variations on one central theme: through what, in action, is the interrvention of an outside agency .and What, in Flannery O'Connnor's orthodox theology, is the mysterious working of grace, the debilitating commplacency in which her characcters are cocooned is violently torn apart leaving them open to the ultimate convergence of the risen.
In the appropriately titled "Revelation", for example, the smug trivial chatter of Mrs Turpin, a middle-aged landowner whose joy is that God "had not made her a nigger or white trash or ugly," is abruptly terminated in a doctor's waiting room by a sullen college girl who has an epileptic fit and physically attacks her. The girl, signiificantly but quite naturally called Mary Grace, recovers enough to spit out the reve-. latory insult, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog." Her selffsatisfaction shattered by this message, Mrs Turpin is led towards a conclusive revelaation, at once comic and celestial, of the souls of the dead, white-robed and shoutting hallelujahs, rumbling uppwards towards heaven while "even their virtues were being burned away."
This purgatorial vision which infuses all Flannery O'Connor's writing and which accommodates the spiritual depth of Hawthorne, the acute ear for dialogue 0( Twain and the bleak comedy of Nathaniel West gives her work a depth and a resonance which elevates it above the merely regional or the piously religious. "The only thing that keeps me from being a regional writer," she wrote in one of her remarkable letters, "is being a Catholic and the only thing that keeps me from being a Catholic writer (in the narrow sense) is being a Southerner." In exploring the mysteries of religion through the manners of her region she created a small but significant corpus of fiction which deserves to endure.
Cinema - Relentless Dissection
On April 10, 1955, Ruth Ellis shot and killed her lover, David Blakely, outside a North London pub. There was no doubt about it: she pumped five shots into him in front of witnesses and then asked that the police be called. A t her trial in June .she calmly asserted that:
"It is obvious that when I shot him, I intended to kill him." The jury took just twenty-three minutes to bring in a guilty verdict. On July 13 she was hung by the State. There was no appeal.
Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. A month after her death, the National Campaign For The Abolition Of Capital Punishment was formed. Two years later, the Homicide Act was amended to allow the plea of dirninished responsiibility in the case of a "crime of passion". It was a signifiicant step forward towards the eventual complete abolition of capital punishment in 1969. Ruth Ellis' particular "crime of passion" evoked a remarkable public sympathy in Britain at the time. The ultimate penalty it incurred shocked many into a belated recognition of the barbarity of capital punishment. After seeing Dance With A Stranger it is not hard to understand why.
All this is the stuff that many worthy anti-capital punishment movies nave been made of: the semitary treatment concentrating on the anguished drama of courtroom and death row; Director, Mike Newell, here avoids the obvious however and concerns himself -entirely with why Ruth Ellis came to commit her "crime of passion". It's a gooddecision. Movie-wise, there is littlenew left to say on the anti-capital punishment theme; rescuing the Ruth Ellis story, on the other hand, is more than worthwhile: '
Not that we get the full Ruth Ellis story by any means. The, movie starts and finishes with her disastrous love affair with David Blakely: 102 minutes' devoted to the last feyt months in the life of a remarkable (judging by the movie) woman. The movie stands or falls on its por- trayal of this extraordinarily honest, vulnerable yet tough woman, increasingly - and tragically - consumed by her passion for a shit of a man .. I think it stands.
In a male-dominated proofession, it will be hard to find female reviewer's reactions to this movie: That's a particuular shame because, in the real sense of the phrase, this is definitely a "woman's movie". Writer Shelagh Delaney (who' wrote A Taste Of Honey back in the Fifties) seems to me to have got right under the skin of Ruth Ellis' character and it is her "feel" for the ambiiguous plight of Ruth Ellis that controls the whole movie.
To describe Miranda Richardson, who plays Ruth, as simply the vehicle for Shelagh Delaney would, howwever, be ludicrous.' She deliivers one of those performances where afterwards you just can't imagine it played any other way or by anyone else. The tarty mid-Fifties look and the slightly elocuted lower middle-class voice are spot-on but the part requires much more than this. It has to' convey how a mature, worldly-wise woman can knowingly . let her' life be screwed up to the point where the most extreme resoolution of her problem appears an almost commonplace ineevitability. Miranda Richarddson, straight from Lancashire rep, manages all this with seeming ease. Another wellcome blow against the Big 'Star syndrome.
The decision to devote virrtually the entire movie to the relentless dissection by Shelagh Delaney and Miranda Richardson of ,"a crime of passion" does-.: admittedly, leave much else unexplored. One comes away from the movie wanting to understand far more about both Ruth Ellis' own background and the social context of the drama.
Ruth appears as the manaager of a London drinking club, tough veneer and tarty glaamour already in place, from nowhere. Apparently the 'daughter of a middle-class cellist, one wonders a little about the choices she made in arriving there, especially with two kids in tow. The background of her lover, David Blakely (Rupert Everett in a socially-similar role to the one- he played in Another Country), is somewhat more certain: a weak, immature would-be racing driver from the upper-class gentry. They meet in the curious nooperson's land of Ruth's club: the kind of place in which anyone from Group Captain Peter Townsend in the Fifties to Arthur Dilly in the Eighties might turn up.
The milieu of the London drinking club scene of the Fifties is captured extremely well. Production designer, Andrew Mollo, gets the tacky decor, tarty clothes and roomantic pop tunes (the title of the movie is one such) horribly right. But it's a restricted snapshot that we are shown: the lives of the characters outside the club remain unknown. Mike Newell's effort at locating the events of the movie in a wider social context is limited to introducing it with a tennminute 1955 MovieTone Newsreel: interesting in itself, it is hardly enough to enable a non-British audience in 1985 to situate the story.
One social aspect, being; germaine to the central theme of the love affair, is explored: the class tensions between Ellis and Blakely. Rupert Everett, I suspect, hardly has to do much acting to portray that easy contempt the upper-· classes hold for those of unneducated, lower middle-class origins they suspect of want-: ing to climb the social ladder., Blakely's chum's wife puts it succinctly when she tells him.' "If you marry her, she'll drag you down to her level becaus~ she'll never rise to yours.' Ruth Ellis actually couldn't care less about social clim bing. Refreshingly, this is no story of the woman from the "wrong" side of the tracks desperately trying to reach the "right" side. Her hard contempt for the hypoocrisy of Blakely's circle is complete.
The whole story of Ruth Ellis is refreshing. It's gpod to get a movie that commits ittself firmly to the woman's point of view and allows so much space to the vivid porrtrayal of a remarkable woman. Though limited in scope and unimaginative in its execution, "Dance With A Stranger" is the kind of movie that, in its honest engagement with conntemporary social/personal values, is rare enough in British cinema these days Pand virtually non-existent in either Irish cinema or teleevision.
Rock - Their Time Has Come
Long overdue due to highhpowered record company wrangling widely detailed elseewhere, the debut album by Dublin group The Blades is released at last. The Last Man In Europe (Reekus Records) lives up to its expectations and the wait has been well worthwhile.
The album opens invigoraatingly with the brassy title track. "I wish that I could be the last man in Europe. Then would you fall for me, the last man in Europe," wonders writer-vocalist Paul Cleary over a chorus that's melodically reminiscent of "Gost of a Chance", the band's best single to date and a harbinger of this album.
The tone of what's to follow is established in the opening song by its clear, unfussy production (by John Porter and Richard Mainnwaring), and in the conviction of the observations which innform Cleary's songwriting.-
Eschewing cosy, rosy roomantic conventions, he sharrpens his love songs with connvincing honesty and insight and he shapes all his material with a rich, naturalistic quaality. Comparisons with the neat, perceptive work of Squeeze writers Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook are as ineviitable as they are favourable.
Cleary wrote the words and music for all ten tracks on this fine album, and reality regularly intrudes on the unnrealised dreams and ambitions of his subjects. In the excelllent "Chance to Stop ", houseewives browse over magazines, wistfully considering what they might have been and regretting their too-early marrriages, while their children are engaged in a similar process, idealising what they want to be and needing their friends to look up to them.
The subject of "That's Not Love" reflects back ruefully on the better times in his relationship, now that he's reduced to drinking wine and whiskey from a plastic .cup and even the Samaritans hang up when he phones. "For all the young romantic fools who like to feel the pain," he sings. "Self pity is your only friend, helps you to complain that's not love."
Then there's the optimistic young couple living "a two up two down daydream" in "Don't Break The Silence"; the man in "Pride" who'd like to break down and say that he's lonely, but is preevented by pride; and a blackkand-white day in a life of unemployment in "Downnmarket", a punchy new treattment of an earlier Blades single.
The maturity of his lyrics is matched by the vibrancy and urgency of Cleary's singging, which has never sounded better, and accompanied here by the tight playing of his colleagues in The Blades, bassist Brian Foley and drummmer Jake Reilly, along with a soaring brass section and backking vocalists, the Sapphires.
On the evidence of this debut album, The Blades are a far better band than most of the Irish acts who have achieved international recoggnition. Their time has come.
Choice among the new l22inch singles, while waiting for the Bronski Beat, is "Don't You (Forget About Me)", a one-off from Simple Minds which will not be on their next album, it is said, and was specially recorded to run over the credits of the latest American puberty blues movie; "The Breakfast Club". The song features singer Jim Kerr in fine voice, cascading .deceptively over the softer earlier sections, then belting out hard over the pounding. rhythms which apparently have made the record a smash on the disco floors of America and Italy.
For good measure, the flipside offers a distinctive "Brass Band in African Chimes", a nine-minute reemixed and retitled treatment of "Shake Off The Ghosts" from the Minds' last album, "Sparkle in the Rain".
Art - Overview
Cecily Brennan established her reputation with landdscapes, small and large, that presented birds-eye, topograaphical sweeps of rural space, airborne views that were halfway between theprimiitives' innocence of perspecctive and the sophistication of the aerial photograph. Not all of her work took such a long view, but even when she narrowed her gaze, she took in detail with a cartoographer's neutrality. Despite all the emotion packed into a generally warm range of colour, one felt a kind of scientific curiosity at work. The ambiguity of the shapes she made, the give and take of line and form, was allowed to lie there in the finished pictures, not tied down to any specific meaning.
In her new work, at the Taylor Gallery, she has narrrowed her focus to one well-defined slice of territory, the Rhododendron Gardens in Howth. This enclosed, colourrful world has provided a subbject on a more intimate scale than the Wicklow counntryside. The pictures are closer and, in a way, more abstract. Colours blur and merge into each other. Patterns, presuumably suggested by the tracks of pathways, the shape of the land, the accidents of wild vegetation, dominate the commpositions. Circular forms draw us into the pictures.
The spiral forms are desscribed by a hot range of colours. "I'he flat-brushed oil paint, favouring warm and burnt hues, seems melted into a fluid, molten mass, like lava. If you look at one area of a picture, it blends into another. Only by standding back and absorbing the whole composition does the image settle dowri.
It is easy enough to place these paintings in a comparaative context. Monet's waterrlilies are an obvious point of reference. So too are some of Bonnard's garden paintings, landscapes and still lif es. In the latter, for example, an amorphous mass of flowers in the foreground can blur into floral-patterned walllpaper in the background. Bonnard has also used garden pathway as a device for leadding the eye into the compoosition. Brennan's colours, .however, are exceptionally dark keyed, a long way from the southern light of Bonnnard's sun drenched world.
Though she has the garrdens, the rhododendrons as a firm source, Brennan's painttings don't go out of their way to impart naturalistic information. The pictures are concerned with something else, with providing, perhaps, some sense of the totality of the. experience of being ill the garden. Time and again we are drawn into the centre of the compositions, pulled up close against the surface so that we are, in a way, surrounnded. It is the sensation of being inundated with the place, not a literal description of the place itself', that is important. So Brennan allows some considerable leeway to' herself in the matter of iiiieluding documentary informaation while maintaining a link with a stated subject. She doesn't go as far as, say, colour field painters like Olitski in finding world enough in the pictures' space and colour in themselves. That link with the real world is important to her.
For all their swirling forms and agitation, the pictures are pretty calm. Their pace is leisurely. they are not easy paintings. Striking, yes, but in their quiet absorption in their own concerns they don't draw attention to themmselves, and that in itself is exceptional these days, when clamorous self-advertisement is the norm.
Opera - success and disaster
It's the nineteenth century Italian pieces like "Don Carlo" which get opera a bad naine. They're the ones with the stupid scripts ("I die, I die, I die" [dies] ): they're the ones with the "Five go off in a Caravan" styled contriivances; they're the ones whose plots are no more than well equipped operatic gymmnasiums, whose only function is to provide as many varied opportunities for vocal acroobatics as possible, where the consumptive heroine's deathhbed is like the parallel bars really.
As theatre both the 1884 4-act version of Don Carlo (which opened the DGbS Spring Season) and to a lesser extent Tosca (the second opera of the season) abound with cheap contriivances and unsolved puzzles (why, for instance, should Scarpia make a bee-line for the' church as soon as Angeelotti escapes? Or, more to the point, why should Don Carlo sperid the entire duration of the opera trying to get off with his own mother?). So it is probably just as well then that the opera does not depend quite so heavily on a convincing theatrical presenn. tation for its effect as it does on musical preparation and a vocally suited cast.
With his instinct for highhoctane drama and winning melodies, Verdi so tunefully whips the action to the boil that it becomes aimost posssible to overlook the fact that Don Carlo, as he appears in this shortened version of the opera, is actually an idiot.
In their production which opened at the Gaiety last week the DGOS has obvioussly decided that this opera doesn't at all depend upon' theatrical presentation for its effect.
With remorseless stubborrness the production (by Giompaulo Zennaro) bullldozes through the action leaving, side by side, the big famous moments (notably the auto da fe) and the little poignant moments flatttened in its wake. At no point did it appear that the producer held any aspiration other than that of stageemanaging his singers around the set in a roughly approopriate fashion.
The set itself, a black and white triumph in pseudery, suggested neither a garden nor a monastery nor a prison as it was required to do. It did, however, suggest that its perpetrator is strongly innfluenced by the Perforce School ("I design in abbstracts, perforce, so that no one, not even me, can tell I can't design.").
Although a disastrous evenning visually, musically it was worthwhile. Gianfranco Rivoli's conducting was reassuringgly conventional and, under the circumstances, wisely so. He milked the set pieces for all they were worth, allowed his singers to indulge themmselves regularly while still maintaining a smart pace. throughout. A penetrating rather than a ringing tenor Walter Donati was a stylish though dramatically ineffecctual Carlos; Lorenza Canepa and Jadranka Jovanovic were more than acceptable as last minute replacements as the Queen and Princess Eboii, respectively. Ms Canepa has a slight pro blem with her phrassing which is often fussy - at least once during 0 Don Fatale she began to sound a pit like an overconscientious ballad singer.
Most impressive of all were the basses Carlo Cava (King Philip) and Armando Caforio (Grand Inquisitor). Cava's exxpressively used voice and suavely commanding presence brought real dimension to his part. Finally Kathleen Tynan 'made a spectacularly assured DGbS debut as the pert page, Tebaldo.
"Tosca", unlike "Don Carlo", is short on showwstopping arias and ensembles. Puccini gradually builds up tension during the opera in a cinematic sequence of strong situations which culminate with a riveting final scene. Even though the libretto, based on a play by Sardou contairis all classic ingredients of the "shabby shocker" àself destructive passion, brutal physical torture, attempted rape, murder, suicide and more - Puccini's superbly sustained score has become one of the most famous examples of the verisimo or realistic genre of opera.
Ben Barnes' production of "Tosca" indicated a more creative approach to the work of the opera producer that. orie normally expects from the DGOS. But apart from the interesting treatment of Spoletta and Sciarrone as ominous, knowing observers of the main action, and an intelligently staged second act the production never really managed to find a focus. Mind you, with this moderately successful offerring the DGOS has got connsiderably greater return than was merited by its abysmally 'short rehearsal period.
Lagging behind the beat and ofteri squally in her, upper register Radmila Bakoocevic was nonetheiess adeequately convincing as Tosca - but why she should have the hots for the dense, woooden Cavaradossi, as Giorgio Tieppi made him but to be, I couldn't work out. Atilia D 'Orazai, obviously a seaasoned Scarpia, gave a fine, sharply etched account of the corrupt Chief of Police but his attempted rape of La Tosca was altogether too gentlemanly to be convincing. The only other noteworthy contribution caine from Peter McBrien who made a nicely garrulous Sacristan.
Stephen Barlow conducted a brisk, uninspired perforrmance which found the RTESO in workmanlikeform. I must confess to being both baffled and' amused by the DGOS' decision to use women in drag as the boy choristers in Act r. I (ear that the ladies involved rather overdid things. Indeed such was the complete panic of one of their number to impress upon us the fact that she was a giggling, hyperractive young choirboy that amidst her leaping and pranccing she was quite oblivious to the wild bobbing and swinging of her own very definitely non-male form. Yes I know, but these are the kind of things one tends to remember.
The first two thirds of this amazingly lugubrious season of opera (all tragedies, two by the same composer) has provided a moderate success and a disaster - which even at this stage is a common enough predicament for the DGOS. Things will only change for the better when the Dublin Grand Opera Society realises that opera, when it is badly staged, ceases to become an enrichment to I the society in which we live. One can't help feeling, howwever, that for the DGOS there is no such thing as a change for the better.
Television - Watching the Detectives
The cops and the medics were sweeping up the remains of the two hit men and Mike Hammer stood there looking perturbed as the camera dolllied back and Mike's voice 'came on with the voice-over narration just like Joe Friday used to do. "In my business," he said philosophically, "death is no stranger. And when you bring it into a friend's home" - here Mike left a little pause so we'd know how deeply he felt about this kind of thing - "you wish it was."
And if you thought that was stupid you should have heard Mike after he wasted the next six hit men who came under the hammer. The TV version of Mickey Spilllane's bone-headed private eye is as witless as the books were. Hammer is a perversion of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction, Philip Marrlowe with a lobotomy. Last week he was stamping his feet because there was this murrderer and Mike wanted him in the pokey like now, okay? And this judge, this woman judge, goddammit, she wanted to have a trial for chrissake, wouldya beleeeeve it, jeeee zus!
And there was this other old judge who kept telling Mike all kinds of stuff about law and civilisation and all, that liberal crap. Naturally, the liberal judge turned out to be the head of the gang of hit men (Mike never got around to figuring out why a judge should need a gang of hit men) and the woman judge ended up calling Mike a crusader and simpering at him. All the women in this series simper at Mike as soon as he walks into the room in his 1940s trench coat and battered hat, part of the outtfit he got when he sent away the box tops for his private eye kit. It's never clear why he should be wearing 1940s PI gear in 1980s New York. Still less why the women wear late 1960s short skirts and 1950s tight sweaters.
We get a lot of rubbish crime shows from the States, but by and large they re likeeable rubbish. Remington Steele fits nicely enough into the Nick and Nora tradition of tee fiction, and if it's suffering from a dose of the cutes we can live with that. The writing is sometimes quite sharp, even if the plots get silly. Besides, I like Stephanie Zimbalist, and Pierce Brosnan is from Navan.
Jack Klugman is still hammming it up as Quincy, the same old sugary liberalism dee,livered with agonising sincerity. Nothing ever changes. Quincy sees the importance of The Issue, while others are too busy or too bureauucratic, and they try to stop him but he Wins The Day. And smiles that lovely Kluggman smile. Klugman is like Mick Lally in Glenroe, he's nice to watch, even if you know he could be doing better stuff.
Few of the crime shows rise to the heights of the late lamented Rockford Files, now popping up here and there in repeats, but an increasing number sink to the depths of Mike Hammer. The dreaded William Shatner is still grittting his All-American teeth, as T.J. Hqoker , spitting out sub-John Wayneisrns as the bad guys obligingly hold out their chins to be whacked.
The thing that distinguishes -the comfortable rubbish from the irritating rubbish is logic. Quincy knows about evidence and warrants and Laura Holt would never fire fifteen bulllets from a .38 Special. Suspension of disbelief is possible. A new entry in the irritation stakes turned up on BBC last week, called Cover Up. The pilot episode had Joe Santos as the heavy (he was Dennis Becker in Rockford) and Doug McClure (rememmber Trampas?) as another heavy, the ubiquitous Robert Webber and a host of famiiliar character faces (it even had the guy who played the immortal Vic Hitler, comeedian, in a few episodes of Hill Street Blues). Within a Stacy Keach as Mike Hammer: "Philip Marlowe with a lobotomy. "
few minutes Joe Santos was passing on information to his, boss, information which the plot had clearly shown he could not have known. That was just after a guy was called Mike, although in every other scene his name was Bud. And that was before the "stars" came on, the beautiiful Jennifer 0 'Neill and the even more beautiful Jon-Erik Hexum (I kid you not). JonnErik is supposed to be a battle-hardened Vietnam vet, but he looks about nineteen. It's a combination of Charlie's Angels and Mission Imposssible, and it's worse than either.
Which is why Miami Vice is worth a qualified welcome .. It operates on a smaller budget, but its aim is higher. It's full of faults, but it looks like a cheapie from a small independent that is trying to secure a foothold in a nettwork prime spot, from where it just might, with time and money, come good.
The most striking thing about the series is its use of pop music. Recent songs are thrown in as soundtracks to various patches of action. Phil Collins or Glen Frey or Xmost effectively, a couple of episodes back - Foreigner warbling "I wanna know what love is" over a sequence. involving the murder of a young girl. The effect was chilling.
Apart from the occasionnally soggy dialogue the main problem is the two lead characters, Crockett and Tubbs. They're straight out of a bang-bang series, with no more depth or detail than a Spillane character. Presumabbly the producers decided to go for stock heroic types as lowest common denominaators, to grab the biggest audience. Crockett started off being cutesy, with a pet alligator named Elvis (God, this is em barrassing, trying to tell people this is worth watching and we're into pet alligators named Elvis) but they toned that down a bit.
It's the minor characters and the handling of the acction sequences that make it worth watching, as well as the atmosphere of the thing. The criminals wear expensive clothes and have lives outtside of their crimes. You can see why they commit crime, because they want full rounnded lives which cost a lot of money. They don't reach for the handiest gun from the prop department, they use machine pistols and light machine guns, the best closeerange guns drug money can -buy.
People sweat when there's trouble. When the cops go into a slum building it looks like a building that spent years getting that way, not something left over from last week's Quincy that the scene designer has messed up a bit. The cops go into rooms carefully and nervously, like they know a bullet hurts and it doesn't always hit you in the 'arm like in Hooker. As befits the members of a vice squad, the cops dress casually, except for Captain Castillo, played by the wonderful Eddward James Olmos (he was a judge. in Hill Street for a couple of episodes). Olmos has acne and dark eyes, wears a black suit and says hardly, anything. He arrived one epiisode a while back and has dominated every scene he's been in since then. Maybe the plan is to build up an audiience and then kill off Crockett and Tubbs and give us a cop show to compare with the best.