Gatsby on stage, Wittgenstein and Poetry Parnassus: Six things to do this monthby Prospect / May 25, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Gatz: a new unabridged, eight hour theatrical adaptation of The Great Gatsby is not a moment too long
Noël Coward Theatre, London, 8th June-15th July
The scene: morning in a shabby, empty 1980s office with clunky desktop PCs and brick-sized mobile phones. A man enters, sits at his desk and tries to switch on his computer. Fails. Tries again. Fails again.
Going through the papers on his desk he comes across a paperback, and for want of anything else to do, opens it and begins reading aloud. Some eight hours later he finishes with “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The book is F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and this bravura production comprises a complete reading of its text. The narrator is joined by a dozen other colleagues. Absorbed at first in their office work, they soon become drawn into personifying and voicing Gatsby’s characters.
The experience is compelling and intimate, not so much watching a dramatisation as collaborating in an intensified reading. Its morality tale of idealism and ecstatic materialism in 1920s New York and Long Island is more inventive and poignant (and funnier) for the physical absence of cloche hats and cocktails. Yes, the whole performance lasts eight hours (including three intervals). No, it’s not a minute too long.
Southbank Centre, 26 June-1st July
What is the difference between a poem and a song? In a spoof YouTube video the Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon wryly claimed to detect an allusion to King Lear in the lyrics of Ke$ha’s hit song “TiK ToK” (sample lyric “oh oh oh”). But he will reflect on the question more seriously this year when he delivers the Poetry Society’s Annual Lecture, “The Word on the Street—Parnassus and Tin Pan Alley.” Muldoon’s poetry, laced with obscure words and far-flung puns, has earned him the nickname the “Puck of Princeton” (where he teaches) and he is just as bracing as a lecturer.
His address will be a highlight of the Poetry Parnassus, a six-day festival of poetry at the South Bank Centre, presided over by Simon Armitage. Planned to coincide with the Olympics, poets from all 204 countries represented in the games will gather for a marathon of readings, essays and workshops. Fittingly, there will be a tribute to Ted Hughes, who championed foreign writers as co-founder of the journal Modern Poetry in Translation. “The amazing boom of translation,” Hughes told The Paris Review in 1995, had had the greatest effect on poets after the war, including his wife Sylvia Plath: “And she never heard the Beatles.”
Wittgenstein—Philosophy and Photography
Atrium Gallery, London School of Economics, 28th May-29th June
In contrast to the image of the armchair-bound philosopher holed up in his study, Ludwig Wittgenstein was, at various points in his life, a soldier, a gardener, a teacher, a hospital porter, an architect, and, as a new exhibition at the LSE shows, a keen amateur photographer.
This exhibition, first shown last year in Cambridge, presents pictures taken by Wittgenstein alongside images by friends and relatives, and quotations from his writings and correspondence. The photos reveal a more playful side of the philosopher. In one, he has convinced a friend to pose like a Hollywood gangster in homage to one his favourite film genres (although he was a fan of trashy films in general, and westerns above all). Beyond the personal insights, these images are also philosophically rich, sometimes serving as visual representations of Wittgenstein’s theories. He created one image, for instance, by combining three separate photos of his sisters and one of himself. The result is a ghostly composite portrait of what appears to be a single person—an eerie illustration of his “family resemblance” argument. Just as family members may look alike without all sharing one particular physical feature, so certain groups of things (such as games or artworks) that seem to be connected by a single shared essence are in fact linked by overlapping resemblances.
But whether your interest is philosophical or biographical, this exhibition is a rare opportunity to see a different side of one of the great thinkers of the past century.
London Coliseum, 18th June-8th July
The most extraordinary moment in Benjamin Britten’s outstandingly dramatic opera Billy Budd contains neither singing nor acting. At the action’s tension-filled climax, admired Captain Vere is about to withdraw with Billy to tell him that, because of the letter of the law at sea, he must be hanged. Instead of the anticipated head-to-head of explanation, regret and consolation, Britten empties the entire stage and the orchestra simply plays a succession of 34 evenly spaced chords, one after another. As chilling as it is unexpected, the moment attaches a lightning-rod to the audience’s imagination.
Originally commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the libretto—co-written by EM Forster, no less—offers hugely theatrical opportunities for its ship-bound, all-male cast, from scenes of pain and extreme pathos to the explosive roar of the orchestra and chorus at full pelt crying “Blow her away…” This new English National Opera production is marshalled by expert Britten conductor Edward Gardner. It also has the bonus of being designed by Paul Steinberg and directed by David Alden, whose knockout, expressionist take on Peter Grimes at ENO in 2009 won numerous awards, not least for lighting wizard Adam Silverman, whose ability to evoke the dazzle of the sea is simply breathtaking.
On release from 1st June
Remember the ape flinging the bone into the sky in Kubrick’s 2001? We look to the past to understand the future, and, in the case of much science fiction, the other way around. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus will take us back to a time before the spaceship of his 1979 Alien set out on its ill-fated mission. According to the director, Prometheus is not a prequel but shares “DNA” with the earlier film.
This is Scott’s first excursion into 3D (the film will also be available in 2D). The director, who likes to superimpose his special effects onto real sets, extended the largest stage at Pinewood by a further 150 feet to create vast architectural structures amid desolate landscape.
And along with the action, expect the cosmic mythology suggested by the title. Viral videos show Guy Pearce as the smooth dictator of the cyberindustrial complex Weyland, Michael Fassbender as the perfect robot David, and an alien with a sticky, cartiligenous resemblance to the monsters that stalked their way through the 1979 original. It all looks heavy on the Kubrick but with extra oomph. How can you not be excited? Don’t disappoint us, Ridley Scott.
Art & Design
V&A, 31st May–30th September
Architect, engineer, sculptor and designer of the new London doubledecker bus and 2012’s Olympic flame cauldron, Thomas Heatherwick is perhaps Britain’s most inventive design entrepreneur. Now director of a 60-person studio, Heatherwick is unfairly notorious for his ill-fated work “B of the Bang,” a 56m firework-like sculpture symbolising the crack of the starting pistol, which was erected in Manchester for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and dismantled for safety reasons in 2009. Far more typical are the ingenious Rolling Bridge at Paddington Basin, which curls back up off the canal into an octagonal ball on the towpath, and the beautiful “Bleigiessen,” a sculpture consisting of 142,000 glass spheres suspended upon 27,000 steel wires, which tumbles through the air of the vast atrium of the Wellcome Trust’s London headquarters. Heatherwick even designed the clever car park and entrance at Guy’s Hospital, rerouting traffic and wrapping the boiler unit that powers the hospital in a vast undulating metal mesh “boiler suit,” through which light glows at night.
To accompany their British Design 1948 –2012 exhibition, the V&A is honouring this particularly English genius with his first major retrospective. Featuring over 150 objects, with drawings and other documents, this exhibition sheds light on the process by which his team’s off-the-wall ideas become objects or buildings that amuse and amaze us.