Sunday, 5 June 2016

Adam's Apple and the gift of enthusiasm

The weather's been very strange today. Humid, misty and slightly sticky. I put a shirt on earlier and couldn't work out if it was a) cold b) slightly damp or c) both cold and slightly damp. Then suddenly I was boiling hot like a wet dog. Is this what it feels like to live in Hong Kong? Air shouldn't make you feel claustrophobic, should it?

I spent much of the day feeling utterly wiped out, hiding from the world, drinking copious mugs of tea and eating rounds of toast. It's amazing how a day like this can slip through ones fingers. By the time I'd started feeling guilty for doing nothing, it was 3pm and almost time to head into Central London. So, in a somewhat adrenalised state, I competed and sent off an application for an opportunity I have to assume has already been awarded to someone else! I refuse to become jaded, however. One day I know I will apply for a job which both exists and I am right for...

I met Fiona and her American friend Jesse in the cafe at the end of Old Compton Street, which appears to be one of the only establishments in the district these days which isn't some kind of chain. Even the big names are moving out of the area because rents are so offensively high. Costa has left the street. Maos has gone...

Jesse played wind instruments and keyboards is in the band Midlake, and is in the country touring with another band. It was lovely to meet him. The presence of an American always turns me into a proud London tour guide. I dust off a few quirky anecdotes and hope I'm not being too boring! The joy about Americans is that they're so darn enthusiastic. My Grandmother gave me the gift of enthusiasm and taught me to respect it greatly in others.

We ate at Number One Bistro for the second time in as many days and were joined by Meriel, who'd been at a conference all day, and Jesse's friend Anne, who works for a record label and comes from Germany.

After eating, we walked across town to Nathan's theatre, picked him up, and strolled up to King's Cross. The tour guiding continued. And then stopped because I felt sure I was being boring.

Nathan and I continued to Old Street and the marvellous Hoxton Hall, which is in the part of town estate agents would probably describe as De Beauvoire. It's a curious district where 1960s council blocks rub shoulders with grand Regency terraces and quirky Victorian warehouses. It was obviously bombed rather viscously during the Second World War which explains all the modern in-filling. I think I would rather like the area if it were a little more honest with itself and not so painfully trendy. The hipsters are moving slowly north from Old Street and Broadway Market.

Hoxton Hall itself is an authentic and very charming 19th Century music hall, one of a very small number of that style of theatre which still survive in the country. Music halls are characterised by their rather small stages and incredibly intimate auditoriums where the audience feel often like they're crammed in like sardines. I have a feeling there are only three such theatres surviving in the UK. Hoxton, Wilton's and the City Varieties in Leeds where Brass was first performed.

We were at Hoxton Hall to see young Harrison in a workshop performance of a piece called Adam's Apple, which carries a very important message, namely that our speaking voices are a big part of how the world sees us. It's often not so much what we say but how we say it. Huge amounts of research has gone into the subject. Women who speak with a creak in their voice are apparently perceived differently to men with the same issue. We trust people who speak with certain accents more than others. I personally hear a Northern Irish accent and immediately assume I'm talking to a backward homophobe...

Adam's Apple focusses more on the pitch and timbre of speaking voices, and tells its tale from a gender perspective. Does a trans-woman with a deeper voice feel less feminine? Does having a squeaky high-pitched voice make a cis man feel more emasculated? There is, of course, something fascinating in those murky waters, but the piece has not yet found its way, largely because it doesn't know what it is. Good theatre needs a compelling story and a narrative arc. The audience needs to care about the characters. It needs to know what makes them tick, what makes them happy and sad, and more crucially, it needs to feel surprised. Having a theme and an interesting message is not enough. Furthermore, it's important to hire a composer who understands scansion and works a little harder at crafting her songs so that they work theatrically. It also felt a little uncomfortable to be confronted by a director at the start of a performance telling the audience that the work has been in development for years but that the writers "still aren't sure where it's going." In my view this is tantamount to saying "look at all this public subsidy we've pissed up the wall." It felt indulgent and insulting. Question number one when you're writing a piece for the stage: who is this for, and what is its goal?

Thank God for the lovely, and rather honest cast who were incredibly engaging. I was immensely proud of Harrison who acted and sung beautifully. I was so pleased to have seen him do so well in his first professional gig.

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