I went to the platform event with James Macdonald, director of The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other yesterday. He had some interesting things to say. One thing he said that I’ve always felt strongly about this play is that you need very very good actors to do it. Dancers can’t do it because you need people who can tell a story in a very short space of time. He said he’d met Handke in Paris and found him "very charming and entertaining" and forthcoming about the play.
In the Q&A, I asked him if there were any other Handkes he’d like to direct and he said not really but would like to see Offending the Audience staged. Another question that came from the floor is what would be the difference between the play and pointing a camera at a real square and recording the coming and going. This pinpoints an absolute lack of understanding of the play that seems to be dogging a lot of people. It is NOT a slice of life but a highly artifical, structured work of patterning and musical structure. If you don’t get that, you’re going to struggle with it.
I stayed on for the performance and found watching it a second time, I picked up much more detail (having re-read it a couple of times since first seeing it helped). I even heard the earthworm this time (joke). I did see some flaws in the production this time. Michael Coveney in his review described it as "more rooted in urban reality, less surreal" (than Bondy’s production) and he’s right, this is a weakness. It has to be played very truthfully but it’s the surreal aspects that work best and there’s a slightly prosaic feel to the production. Certainly, the design is a problem (something I didn’t mention in my own review) and I’d like to see the set minimalised and preferably freed from a proscenium setting.
The curtain call was met with a lot of booing from one section of the audience. While this is not uncommon at the opera, I can’t recall many occasions when I’ve heard it at a play. Are these the same sort of people who think all classical music is "shit" or feel the need to picket Harrison Birtwistle? One blogger writing about the play has said, accurately in my view, that anyone used to seeing contemporary dance or attending orchestral concerts would have no difficulty with this play.
Perhaps these are just people who are passionate about particular traditions of theatre and can’t see over the edge of their ruts. They may just have hated it, which they are free to do, but anyone with any artistic sensitivity or judgement would be able to see that this is a fine production of a great work. I’d like to know what it was that they were booing.
It’s sad that in this country many people are so hung up on content and can’t cope with exploration of form. There again, this was just a small minority and most of the audience seemed enthusiastic, if a little bewildered.