Went to the live screening of Othello last night, direct from the National Theatre. I hadn't really intended to go - I only made my mind up about an hour before. It was, much to my surprise, fantastic. I don't like the play, the racism and misogyny unsettles me and I wasn't sure how they could translate it to a contemporary setting - but they did a really inspired job ofremoving it to the period of the Balkan conflict - which sounds like pretentious bollocks, but worked beautifully.
As usual - it was the same crowd, middle class, middle brow, middle aged ( all over 55 ). Woman in front of me in the queue was about 60, she scanned the crowd - including myself... and said to her friend "oooh, all the same age in here tonight" - I gave her a very hard stare. She had an envelope with her tickets and the words 'Othello O.M.G!!!!!" written on it in biro. The cinema was overheated and they didn't remember to turn the air conditioning on until half way through - it's a pretty crap cinema and the staff can be a bit ropey - it had an overwhelming smell of feet and BO. I had to suffer Emma Freud - babbling and preening her way through a couple of breaks and a fawning interview - she really is crap, I just wish that one of the audience would leap up and punch her.
They do an exceptional job of filming and editing the live shows, you forget that it's not a carefully edited TV production, it was the 80th performance and was incredibly slick. I regularly forgot that the language was hundreds of years old, so seamless was the integration with a modern setting, and I was regularly gripped - although someone I know came over to talk to me at the interval and they were not enjoying it at all. There wasn't a single weak member of the cast - which is fairly unusual - and the set was great.
I really don't like this play, Othello is not a sympathetic character, neither is Desdemona, and they didn't shy away from that - only Cassio coming out of it (almost) unscathed with any sympathy and dignity - albeit as a bit of a nieve. At the end I overheard the following exchange between two elderly women
"I like him, he's very good, lovely"
"who - the black one"
"no - the main one - with the leg"
"the bad one??"
"no - the handsome one"
There was a brief filmed interview with the actor Tom Hiddelston, impossibly good looking and bright eyed, as he came on screen there was an audible gasp and sigh from about 50 menopausal women who froze in rapt appreciation, and much uncomfortable shuffling in seats when the interview ended. He will be in Coriolanus after Xmas - with Mark Gattiss, can't stand Gattiss - very much in two minds about that one.
There was one strange thing about last night that made me think - the exact period in which it was set was when I was teaching foundation at Camberwell. A fairly large course - it attracted a combination of local students and wealthy kids from the shires on trust funds who were too dim to get jobs (or just not 'ready'). Every year, the same thing would happen - beautiful, willowy, bohemien, blonde girls with impossible doe eyes would arrive from Surrey and Hampshire, trust funds and handy little flats under their arms, they would throw themselves into South London life - smoking pot, drinking beer from bottles, skanking to Bob Marley, occasionally developing phantom eating disorders when they weren't getting enough attention, and getting a black boyfriend. I read a very bad article once by an American journalist about the 'Mandingo' complex - it was a trashy, poorly constructed piece - but I could see her thesis in action. The boys on my course were all the same. Young, good looking, smart, ambitious and usually very gifted. Their families never understood why they would want to go to art college, and they generally started as exemplary students - usually working nights and weekends. They were easy prey to the girls, dazzled by what they thought of as exotic and dangerous - they were often disappointed to find that their new boyfriends actually didn't deal in drugs, went to church on Sundays, loved their mothers and wanted to do their homework at night instead of smoking dope with 'Camilla, Tabitha and India". These poor boys would often fall in love with the girl - it would last about a term ( usually as long as it took to take them home to Surrey for a weekend to shock their parents) and then find themselves dumped "It's like - I love you, but were so different" - any protestation and 'Oh My God, you're like, SO unreasonable, like, stop hassling me". Every year I would loose good students because of a bad relationship - it was always the boys who had to leave - one of them ended being sectioned after he had a breakdown after a humiliating encounter with his girlfriend in the canteen. So many well funded, middle class students would use their time in education to play at being grown-ups, before they went off to be public relations experts or events managers, or marry a merchant banker, and so many ordinary working class kids would give up because they just couldn't compete. There was something in the central relationship last night that really reminded me of that time, although - to be fair, it ended very badly in the play - real life is different, but not much.
Yesterday afternoon as I cycled down the hill I had to stop for a moment outside a house on the Canute Road, decent sized semi, a young man was on the front step - the door opened and a woman 'plonked' a small child in his arms and started screaming abuse at him, then told him to go away, "I don't have time to waste on you" and slammed the door - he said nothing, carried the child to his car and presumably took his daughter away for 'his time'. The child was totally passive throughout. A mate of mine is in a similar situation - every time he collects his daughter - his X (or her mother who does all the childcare) screams abuse at him, her goal is to upset the child, he's been advised to say and do nothing because the mother wants the child to associate their contact time with distress and upset, and there is nothing he can do until his daughter is old enough to start making her own decision, so he has about 12 years of conflict and politics to get through. Parents seem to have no idea how badly that sort of thing affects you and stays with you all your life, even now I have to leave the room if I see people arguing on the telly or in real life. People really need to get it into their heads that sometimes kids grow up to hate their parents, and it's all their own fault.
Man on the radio who's family were killed in an arson attack last week talking with such love and dignity about his family, it's heartbreaking.