"the year of magical thinking"
a play by joan didion based on her memoir
performed by vanessa redgrave
directed by david hare
designed by bob crowley
costume designed by ann roth
lighting designed by jean kalman
sound designed by paul arditti
associate lighting designer - bobby harrell
lyttleton, national theatre
"the year of magical thinking", adapted for the stage by joan didion from her best-selling memoir of the same name, chronicles the aftermath of her husband's - and then her daughter's - sudden deaths...
"following a sell-out run on broadway in 2007, vanessa redgrave repeats her award-winning solo performance in david hare's celebrated production which now receives its uk premiere..."
sad to say my first thoughts are that this was a disappointing experience.
i was expecting it to be - well magical.
so why did it not reach or leave me with any real resonance?
it is certainly extremely well crafted and in many ways flawless in its execution: the writing is fluid and expressive, the acting is honest, centred and true, and nothing happens that seems misplaced, unnecessary or bewildering.
and we all loved the design - redgrave on a chair in expensive white and cream before a series of painted silks that each fell silkily away to reveal the next one behind: the sea, a evocation of a home, then more abstracts skyscapes like oils painted across stretched canvas. these in union with a shifting series of lighting moods helped to convey different emotions and a sense of time (of day / of moving forward).
and certainly vanessa redgrave's performance gave me a woman of such complete presence that i have unquestioningly accepted i am now qualified to know and judge her.
but the problem for me was that this is a woman who has already reasoned everything out thoroughly and is presenting us now with her conclusions.vanessa redgrave gives us a woman who is doing pretty much as she says she does: staying in control and when she can't control things trying to be incontrol even faster, harder, better (just as we all push our default behaviours in times of crisis). the problem for me in the sudience is that this means i am kept out and apart from her emotions. i hear about them. i even believe them. and much of what she is saying sounds right and honest and true. but without the chance to witness any spontaneous feelings in the moment it was for me a lecture, albeit a very very good lecture, on the nature of grief and grieving.
and then because i am increasingly experiencing this as a presentation i increasingly judge what i get with my head rather than my heart.
while i keep trying to lock into the anguish that is evidently and understandably breaking her apart, instead my judgements about her are piling up and making me feel dismissive - no, too strong - but distanced by the cries she herself keeps re-making and trying to parady: the need to "have things your way", to "always have the last word"accumulatively this person before me becomes just too overtly 'american' for me connect with or in the end even like: too many product placements (the tiffany bracelet, the prada bag, expensive hotels) too many times mentioned. i recognise so closely the frenzied need to direct control on anything when denied the chance to make any difference whatsoever on the very things she wanted to able to hold, keep safe, manage, make ok. but her over-repetitions of knowledge, money, things jarred with me. as did the many stories of catholic rituals that she used to commemorate what she told us was an atheist life which were told without any explanation as to their meaning for her.
and then it had just one private recollection too many for me and i would have had more to take more away if it had finished after the geological connections with '...as it was in the beginning, as it is now, as it ever shall be world without end..." and her asking "shouldn't this be enough comfort for us ...?"
but the thing is i really didn't want to be making any of these sorts of value judgements: who the fuck am i to have opinions about her and anyone else's choices? and i don't usually (i hope).
i did this time i think because i came to meet her not as a person in real relationship, but as a character on a stage.
and without any vibration of spontaneous life this was this all i could find to work with ???
in his programme notes david hare cites the moment "...the play [as] a spectacle became a warning" and has what it needs to fly from when joan didion inserted a new "...blazing admonishment with which the play opens..."
"...This happened on December 30, 2003.
That may seem a while ago but it won't when it happens to you.
And it will happen to you. The details will be different,
but it will happen to you.
That's what I'm here to tell you.
You see me on this stage, you sit next to me on a plane, you run into me at dinner, you know what happened to me.
You don't want to think it could happen to you..."
but perhaps it is this tone that makes the problem for me - by making it from the start a case of too much telling me and not enough showing me something i can connect into ???
or perhaps i am just too much untested and in denial about just how inaccessible grief can be for anyone who is not inside it, and until i am i cannot know -
but then how do we bring the resonance of this beyond just the telling of it ???
and so this performance did not reach me.
yet at least ...