What happens to superannuated critics? They become judges at international drama festivals. Few are as bizarre as the one just held in the historic heart of the Ukraineby Irving Wardle / December 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Published in December 1998 issue of Prospect Magazine
They say that Mr K got going in business by shooting his Canadian lover after she had bought him the best hotel in Lviv. I can’t object, as I have been spending a week free of charge in that hotel, as well as pleasant afternoons in the blue champagne pool of his casino, surrounded by caged singing birds. In any case, I don’t even know if the story is true. There is not much of which I am sure at the moment. Except that whenever I set foot outside Mr K’s domain I find another world. Blind old ladies sing on street corners; people with banners outside the town hall demand something or other; traders selling bananas and hand-woven straw slippers are said to be former university teachers.
Tonight at the opera house we should be seeing a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome directed by R Viktyuk, Russia’s most highly paid director (they say). The show will start at six o’clock. Or then again, perhaps at eight. If, that is, the company arrive.
They do arrive. We, however, do not. We have been out all day viewing the tumbledown castles of Zolochev, Olevsk and Pidhivzi; we do not make it back to Lviv’s “Misery Square” until 8:30pm and it is another half hour before we shove through the crowds and the guards and persuade the management to shoehorn us into the auditorium. By this time it is rather late in the day to grasp Viktyuk’s production. The show is said to begin with a transcript from the Wilde trial and has a cast list identifying the Biblical characters with Wilde’s friends and relations. But all I can see is a stage full of PVC and bondage straps, with Salome (alias Bosie) swishing about in a bejewelled jock-strap and Herodias (alias Wilde’s mother) as a martial artiste flooring a queue of rampant males. How amusing to find eastern Europe still catching up with western decadence, we think smugly. Not that we are in a position to feel smug, as we are festival judges who have just missed half the show.
If you have ever wondered what happens to superannuated critics, the answer is that we become judges at international festivals. It’s a form of afterlife; but you do get to places you might otherwise never see: for example, Torun, birthplace of Copernicus, and Plzen, famed for its brewery-or, in the present case, Lviv, where I am sure something important must have happened, apart from famine and massacre.