Posts Tagged ‘Rugby’

Yes, much has happened since I wrote last – all of it good, I think.

There will be time for that in good time, but I must write now (as so often) of Fiona Shaw.

By way of gentle introduction to the celebration of that finest of actors, let me first take you (protesting and looking in a panicked fashion over your shoulder to see if anyone has witnessed your abduction) back to my school days. Worse than that, I am going to take you to Rugby training.

Rain seemed to be a constant, as was mud and (of course) our coach: a MASSIVE (or, as Eldest Son has recently discovered, to my chagrin: “mahoosive”) block of a man with an Easter Island face, shaved head and a tendency to see anything other than death as a below par reason for not training for the next game. Anyway, in spite of this decidely Fotherington-Thomas-sounding description, I loved Rugby – still do – and found the playing of that great game exhilarating and energising. What I could never get excited about was the training: the running with your knees as high as you could, star-jumps and press-ups that had fuck all to do with how the game was played. I could see the point of a couple of laps of the field to warm up, but most of it was utterly pointless – and nothing was more pointless than the piece of apparatus called “The Scrum Machine”. This was a piece of machinery that looked like a slatted wooden bed-base, swaddled in horsehair and rough cotton, mounted on springs and held by a metal framework. The scrum (including myself) wood scrum down, push heads through the gaps in the bed-base and push like hell in order to drive the thing back against its springs, replicating the effect of the opposing team’s scrum. It didn’t, of course: the opposing team’s scrum (being made of people) had a habit of moving in different directions, dipping up and down and pushing with unequal force, rather than standing its ground and being driven back stoically.

I was reminded of this fruitless, exhausting task when we went to see Fiona Shaw in Howard Barker’s “Scenes from an Execution” at the National Theatre last week.

Howard Barker was, when I was first a student, THE modish paperback to have – far more impressive than the standard (and SIGNIFICANTLY better, of course) Beckett/Barthes/Lodge alternatives that suggested that one was a little too ensnared by things such as thought, quality and artistry. PAH! Barker was IT, man. I thought it was shit then, and I think it’s little more than shit now.

I have to say that I was very nervous when the play started. A magnificent set by Hildegaard Bechtler was good news, but a nude male, arse in the air on a rocky outcrop was less easy-making: here was our first “Barker-esque” subversion – the artist (Shaw) is female, and the model is male. Oooh: challenging.

The first half was fuck awful: turgid and lifeless and only fitfully funny (and I see no reason not to level that as a criticism), with the ideas (and Barker’s admiration for them) proving to be too heavy for him to lift into drama. The second half, it must be said, was immeasurably better, with the narrative finding its rhythm and moving forward more convincingly, with the central theme of art and patronage coming into focus with less panting and straining than had been seen in the first half.

Fiona Shaw was (perhaps against the odds) utterly magnificent. I have only been massively embarrassed by Shaw once on stage – in ThePower.Book, the collaboration between Deborah Warner, Jeanette Winterstone and Saffron Burrowes, where the earnestness and energy of all those very talented women was so similar as to create something utterly still-born. Let me just add, as (depressingly), I fear I must, that this is not a comment on their gender: I have seen equally deadly pieces of theatre where the strutting male energy has been so one-noted as to rob the piece of any life too. That piece, like this, wrestled with ideas, with a deadening seriousness that suffocated all vitality – and as I sat watching “Scenes from an Execution” I thought “Oh no: it’s going to be ThePower.Book all over again – oh well, at least she won’t dance to Blondie. Probably.”

I was wrong: Shaw created a fantastically engaging character in Galactia. She was vain and self-assured, yet vulnerable; over-bearing and bullying, yet soft – quite something. The greatest piece was to observe this wilful rebel (whom one felt defined herself as an outsider as much out of a sense of expectation as out of a genuine desire to challenge) become part of the establishment, robbed of her power by the forces that professed to support and champion her. She was brilliant, and, when she took her bow, she was exhausted.

This is hardly surprising: Fiona Shaw is an actor who tends to give 100% or nothing, tearing up convention and expectation as she tackles roles from Medea to Hedda to Winnie to Katharina – so it’s hard to think back over the twenty-five years that I’ve been watching her to a performance when she hasn’t been absolutely exhausted by the end of the play. Maybe I’m “projecting”, as make-believe psychotherapists would say, but this time seemed different. She reminded me of how I felt, running at that great scrum machine: moving it back through sheer power and energy, but knowing that it would return to its original position, leaving me feeling as though – whatever I did – there was never going to be anything achieved.

Cleopatra next, please – Barker is just not good enough to deserve you – and Cleopatra is a part worth getting exhausted by.

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Monkey Rugby

Saturday, 8th September 2007

It’s half time in the England vs. USA Rugby World Cup game.

We are winning 21-3, but we are playing like MONKIES. Rugby is the only sport that I like watching (and used to play), but this is agonisingly poor. To think that we’re playing South Africa on Friday makes me feel a bit sicky-pops.

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Sunday, 14th October 2007

“Worst World Champions in years”?

“Lucky if they make the quarter finals”?

Well how about a victory over the favourites (Australia) and, last night, a defeat of another favourite AND the host nation: France?

14 – 9.

Oh! And the ADDED joy of beating the abhorred France!

England Rugby is the best in the world!

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Just to be Clear

Sunday, 14th October 2007

England beat France in The Rugby World Cup yesterday.

A bit like we did in the last Rugby World Cup four years ago.

We beat them. Beat-y, beat-y, beat-y, beat-y, beat, beat them. 14 points to their unwashed, yellow-teethed, supercilious, dictator-surrendering, collaborating, shit pop music listening 9 points.

I have watched the match three times now – and it keeps getting more and more satisfactory with every happy viewing.

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Sunday, 21st October 2007

“Calling at Broken Promises, Disillusion Central, and Shattered Dreams Parkway” – so quoth the mighty Alan Partridge about his journey to London to chase his elusive second series. And I daresay that is EXACTLY how the whole nation feels this morning after South Africa won The World Cup. 

A disallowed, entirely legitimate England try, and a partially blind referee who failed to pick-up on a LOT of obstructive South African play couldn’t quite blind me to the fact that the better team won. Nevertheless, if there is ONE smart-arse remark from any one of the legion of South Africans who staff the cafe at work, then I shall not be responsible for my actions.

I am only able to write this relatively sanguine entry because of Wife’s very intelligent “Q.I. and Smarties” strategy, whereby she presented an immediate balm of Stephen Fry and confectionery to the still-smarting sore, and got the worst of the sting out.

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