Last weekend I went to an amazing workshop organised by Poetry London. It was such an intense two days that I’m still organising my thoughts, but while I was staying in London I also indulged in what might be considered extra-curricular activities and saw two plays. Although not a part of the official programme, these were as much a part of my weekend of learning as the classes.
Given that the workshop class considered the wildness of poetry, it seemed appropriate to choose to see The Libertine the same weekend. The production was gorgeous; artfully directed and well served by the beautiful Theatre Royal Haymarket as another aspect of the seductive musk of the whole play. The production, like Dominic Cooper in the lead role, walks the knife-edge between being repellent in its opulence and irresistibly charming. Like a recent production of Dr Faustus from the innovative Jamie Lloyd Company, the play uses humour to trap the audience in some very dark places. There is collusion between the actors and the audience in The Libertine; both have a role to play in telling a story. In poetry, the same is true. Although I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to write for an audience, I’m not sure how a poem exists without a reader who may choose their own perceived balance of dark and light if you put them both in contention.
If The Libertine used luxury to both conceal and reveal the rot underneath, the second play, Unfaithful, took a very different approach in a production stripped almost bare. In the small studio space, there was nothing but a bed and the rest of the surroundings were conjured from the language of the four characters. Much rests on the actors in a production like this; it really brings home both the talent and the hard work required to truly serve the words as they’re written. For me, it served as a reminder of the power of words spoken aloud - what we say, what we mean and everything created in the sound of language and the silence that sits between those words. Reading drafts of poems aloud is a very important part of the process for me – I record myself reading a draft and listen to it over and over – sometimes with the text in front of me, sometimes without, until I can pick out what is working and what isn’t.
The other aspect of the play that got me thinking was the way all the actors were on view all the time – if not participating in a scene, they sat blank-faced and waited. It made me think that every time I write a poem – make a noise in the world – all the poems there ever were and ever will be are there, waiting for their turn on the stage. Each poem is a break in the silence and becomes part of a conversation with a troop of impassive actors.
This is all by way of saying that I recommend both of these productions wholeheartedly and I don’t believe that my excursions were skiving from the primary purpose of taking a poetry class. In fact, the plays inspired me to new ideas, reminded me of the power of language and, as all good writing does, took me way from myself and brought me back somehow changed. I think it’s good for writers of all types to have it played out, in real life, exactly what we’re here for.