The Siren Call of The Grotesque

My acting ambitions have changed somewhat since I first set my sights on treading the boards. Since I was young I have admired the graceful, feminine icons of the silver screen: Audrey Hepburn, Tippi Hedren ,Grace Kelly. The flawless, fashionable glamour was the height of sophistication; if I could pull off that aura, if I could be eloquent and graceful through anything, I would be untouchable.

Since then I’ve read a few plays. I’ve heard stories about characters that are damaged, desperate, marginalised, fascinating. I’ve acquired a taste for the grotesque.

One of my university lecturers, Harold, who passed away a couple of years ago, introduced me to Jean Genet. He impressed upon us the essence of Genet. The homeless man in town with a bleeding head. The pair of old women who always walked side by side wearing identical clothes.

I began searching for a kind of tragic truth in everything I read and wrote. Detail, pain, wildness.

Around the time of his death, I got the opportunity to act in my first Genet production; The Maids. A friend of mine runs a theatre company and shares a Harold-inspired love for Genet’s works, and we found ourselves very much on the same page. Our maids were feral women in lapdogs’ clothing. They were wild, hurt, angry, fired.

Perhaps there’s something of my old ambitions living in the hearts of Claire and Solange. The desire to be glamorous, fashionable, loved, untouchable. Despite their hatred of the bourgeoisie, while they’re chewing it up, they suck up all the juice. Why not take for yourself the best of both worlds?

Claire and Solange are ugly, twisted, animalistic rebels whose pain and frustrations might just resonate a little loudly with the public of today.

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Photograph courtesy of www.hedgepigtheatre.com

Portrait of a Christmas

My dad sits opposite me, scratch-and-scrawling in his brand new sketchbook. Glasses on string balanced low on his nose, head shifting regimentally between the page and his subject.

He draws my sleeping brother – to my right, on the sofa. Loafing.

Family gathered and now not knowing what to do with themselves, baited breath…

… Shrugging shoulders, moving on the balls of our feet, shifting in our seats, offering constant sweets and treats. Thankful. Peaceful.

That’s what gets me, what lets it in, it’s the peace. Lets in the Thought. This unwarranted time off from the world outside, from everything, it lets it all in. Suddenly we’re weak, aching, clogged, hardly able to perform perfunctory functions. Useless blobs, heaving and sighing.

I watch my dad and think about things outside here, back in my reality. We each have our own, to which we will return at the end of the week.

I think about depression, and the long-term things one needs to think about if one is to accept life as a long-term Thing. If one is to join the game, become a member of mature, fulfilled, healthy adult life. Depression in me, and in my partner, and how we deal with those. How we are only just getting to know one another. How we have a whole stretch of wonderful honeymoon life together lying before us. Wonderful, delicious, making me hungry and satisfied all at once. Like standing in a warm wind.

It’s easy in this cosy house to grow nostalgic, romantic, and expect everything to always be alright. Things will be smooth, and we’ll always be together, and everything will be easy. In this cosy house with the wind outside. Untouchable.

“There must be something on the telly.” People make their assertions about what they’d like not to miss; I stay silent, although really, I am desperate to catch Doctor Who. Surely they know. Surely I shouldn’t have to say. Too embarrassing, and I could never find the words, despite having heard them just now from others’ mouths. Too silly and selfish. Better to wait, and catch up on my own later, in my own reality.

To my left, on the other sofa; ‘Aunt’ Vera and my grandma, both engrossed in reading, except of course when there is a chance of engagement with the whole family – a loud noise, a squeal of delight from my baby brother, the offer of cake…

… Everyone seems serene, I think, even me, despite my sudden restlessness with this peace. Inside we must be crawling with anxiety to be normal, or rather to be individual, and yet we all seem at ease.

One more day of full-fat eating and resting tomorrow, before we go back.

Each to our own reality.

‘For a Kiss’: a postcard poem

Another poem written for my penpal, inspired by a vintage book cover postcard, though drawn from a real experience that lingered with me. There are tons of these postcards in my local Amnesty bookshop, for 30p each (or 5 for £1), which makes me happy. I go foraging there in my spare time with another writer friend.

I am currently really enjoying writing just for the fun of it, for myself, and to make someone smile briefly, and with no pressure to be technically (or at all) perfect, but letting go and writing anyway.

kisskiss

You can have it for a kiss, Miss
That rare, special issue of National Geographic
from the year and month of her birth

For a kiss

All she wanted was to hand over some change
in return for this treasure; a simple exchange

She looked at the grizzled banterer before her
She had not expected a challenge
to be noticed
to be put on the spot

Go on
urged her friend
It’s only a kiss

She shook her head
ready to turn away defeated, hands empty

The man relented in mock hurt
and gave her the treasure for nothing

‘How are you’: a poem

There’s an aftertaste of yesterday’s
sensitive murmurs and concerned, defeated looks,
“Have you heard?”

I haven’t.
All day,
“Have you heard?” “Yes, very sad.”
I develop the habit of dropping my gaze and slipping out of the conversation
without a fuss,
becoming invisible.
I haven’t heard,
and there’s probably a reason for that.
The pace has picked up slightly,
everyone is moving around with an air of caution and maturity,
paying each other perfunctory versions
of the usual passing smiles,
everything toned down in respect.
We swim through the day
like an obsolete cassette player
running itself down through its last hours
into obscurity.
“How are you?”
someone asks,
just out of courtesy, of course,
not seeking deep, thoughtful response.
Well, I’m okay. I’m okay.
We carry on, the hive,
dodging each other as we swing round blind corners of filing cabinets,
pushing muffled trolleys and even typing on mute.
Low, graceful voices teach me new tasks,
leaving me wiser and more useful.
Near the end of my lesson, they ask,
“Do you know, Helen has cancer?”
Well, now I do.
I drift away at the end of the day,
feeling guilty, because, I’m okay.
I go home to my partner and make the usual two calming cups of tea,
and he asks me how I am.
“I’m okay,” I say,
because I am, I’m okay.
I think about what the right answer is,
what one of the mature, concerned voices might say,
what would be respectful.
And I think, well,
this is not my drama,
not my story,
I shouldn’t be infusing my eyes and voice
with what I am only guessing is the
appropriate emotional response.
I wouldn’t drop my face on greeting someone in a wheelchair,
would I?
I wouldn’t downplay my ability to walk,
and run, and make the most of what I still have available.
Of course, whatever the reason they’re in a wheelchair,
it probably isn’t terminal.
And, in all likelihood,
they probably haven’t just heard.
I’ve only just heard,
indeed, so has Helen.
So, that’s, different, then.
It’s not a case of distraction or avoidance, or
showing my respect by using what I’ve got
because I should appreciate it while I can.
This is not news for which there exists
an ‘appropriate’ response.
But this is not my business, really.
We eat.
We watch a drama about a man funding his cancer treatment
by cooking and selling drugs.
We laugh, we make love, we talk, we go to sleep.
The alarm is snoozed the usual three times,
and then we drag ourselves up and out.
Back at the office,
I hear that Helen is going to be away for a while.
They are replacing her,
temporarily,
and would I like to stay a little longer?
Of course, I say, and feel guilty,
because, I’m okay.
I will drift out of this place
with only a shopping list
tonight
and the thought,
“Thank god I’m okay.”

‘Greasy Stranger’/’Ode to Prudishness’/’Ode to Hygeine’: a poem

Greasy stranger in my waiting room
Uch
Why are you greasy?
How is it that you and I can co-exist on this earth
when we have such disparate definitions of ‘normal’, and ‘acceptable’ behaviour,
or of personal care or routine?
I know there are people who don’t wash their hair,
I have read about them,
and I know,
I am painfully aware,
from years of serving the public and cleaning up after them in communal toilets,
that most
people do not feel the need to wash their hands
after they have been
and done their business…
More on that, later.
You are in my waiting room.
You are looking around as if birds were tweeting in the surrounding forest,
as if you just strode on stage for the opening of Oklahoma,
as if everything was fine…
I assure you, it is not.
To be so confident and self-assured would be annoying in the most acceptable of circumstances,
but to be so when you are so greasy is just…

He turns my way.
Oohhhhhh no.
He holds my gaze expectantly, as if he is about to ask a question –
I respond politely with my
“Yes, I’m here,”
eyebrows…
Instead of a question, he raises his own
polite
eyebrows
at me
me, a normal person,
with normal, clean hair, and modesty.
He says,
“Hullo!”
Well, fuck me.
For this, I was not prepared.
“Hhhheellloo…”
seeps out of me like a wince at a careless nurse
knocking a bone back into joint with shabby share of grace…
my brow frozen in furrow,
my manners in disbelief
How dare he?
How dare you!
Although, I cannot speak,
albeit from a distance,
via time, space, and now, poetry,
I cannot speak directly to this greasy stranger anymore,
because now, he has broken all the rules,
he has turned civilisation upside down
in acting as if things are not
as they are
How could I predict his next behaviour?
This alien operating system could change at any moment,
indeed I am braced already,
his polite eyebrows are not half as pleasant as mine,
and I have not even plucked today.
No, it is no use,
we shall have to sit in silence, you and I,
I shall not be making small talk with you,
and I shall look affronted at your efforts.
The clock will tick by to your not-soon-enough appointment,
and I will wait
it
out.

Accents

I have a nasty habit. I know I’m not the only one. I pick up people’s accents when I speak to them. Especially when I agree with what they’re saying. I lived with someone from Alnwick at university, and sounded like a Geordie for two years.

It works both ways; I also seem to discover my own ‘true’ accent when I am passionate about something, although this is also guided by my mood – when angry, I tend to sound more Cockney. Swearing in particular is much more satisfying in said accent. And, of course, I’m allowed, because I’m technically from Walthamstow/Tottenham (I seem to collect hometowns.)

On the other hand, when I feel authoritative about something, I sound more Radio 4 R.P. Adopting a lofty, elevated focus on annunciation perhaps serves to sound intelligent in my mind’s ear, and I think I can convince anyone listening that I am indeed the final word on the subject.

For example: I remember one time getting into a red Astra in my college days, to be driven around by boys, and settling in next to my best friend who was seeing the boy that I wasn’t (all was shared out fairly in those days) to rant about something, loudly and and energetically to talk over the stereo and to make my entrance a bit more fun. London was definitely with me, and I’m sure it also had at least a fraction to do with the fact that my bestie happened to be from Wimbledon.

Australian is the worst. To begin with, I thought the Asutralian person I was copying would find it funny or endearing somehow. God only knows where this idea came from. I can only imagine how mortifying and annoying it might be to have someone attempt to copy my accent when talking to me. But then, I don’t really like the sound of my own voice (unless I’m doing Radio 4), which is maybe why I feel the need to collect others. Certainly, if I sound anything like my Burnley boyfriend did when doing ‘Southern’, when I copy anyone else, I have a feeling how I must come across. Especially as I only do it with people I don’t know very well. People who are warm and infectious, and happen unfortunately to hace an accent that commands copying. Oh dear, is all I can think, in retrospect. How can I stop myself, oh lord?

‘Games’ extract

An extract from my short play The Games We Played At No. 47. Beware, this is not the most sophisticated or high-brow of writing or sentiments. I produced Games at university under the umbrella of the Drama Society, and would like to put it on again. Most of the characters are unnamed and unisex.

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(Lights up/audience walk in to PERSON sat on toilet, who acknowledges them and addresses them directly. May take tissue and pretend to wipe at points, maybe even look at tissue afterwards.)

Person   What is hate? Why do we hate? I hate you, because you’re an audience. You’ve come here expecting to sit there for an hour or two (and you’re hoping it’s only one, or less), and watch something beautiful and meaningful, that makes you a better person. More cultured, I don’t know. Well, well done.

(Looks at themselves)

This means you’re cultured. So, being an audience, you have a lot of expectations. As I said you expect to see something beautiful and meaningful which puts a lot of pressure on me, so thanks for that. You expect that if something happens to me, here, over the next however long, let’s say an hour, it’s all part of the show and whatever I say, whatever I do, you should sit there and watch, and do bugger all else, because if you react any more than that, you’ll look… like a twat. Fair enough. I hate you for that. I hate that because you’re used to sitting and watching, you won’t do. You’ll restrict yourself from doing so often and for so long that you’ll forget when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t. And how to do it. Doing, that is. You’ll also assume that because this… piece… wasn’t advertised as a musical, that we won’t break into song and dance randomly, or even if it’s relevant to the storyline. Am I right? It’s ok to nod, you know. And that’s another thing: Who said I’m in charge? Who says I get to tell you what you can and can’t do, just here, just now, and you pay for it? Is it just me or is that a bit…

(Looks at audience as if they’re a bit perverse)

Weird? You sheep you. I hate sheep. What was I saying? Why do we hate? I hate my friends the most. No, really. They do me wrong. They’re gonna. I hate Will, because he reminds me of my dad. I hate myself when I remind me of my dad. As you might have guessed, I hate my dad. I hate Johnny because he’s arrogant, selfish, narrow-minded, patronising, rude, chauvinist, offensive, socially retarded. That’s enough isn’t it? I hate (Puts on pathetic, self-mocking tone) potential love interests. I hate mind games. I hate waiting. I hate boredom. I hate being boring. But then, I never am because I’m bored, which means… I’m too interesting to enjoy boring things? Or something. I hate bad smells ever since my science teacher confirmed my horrific fear that they are, in fact, bad for you. In your body. Badness happening right there. Smell cow pat? That’s poo germs going in your nose. Hate to tell you. True story. Now let’s get back to you. So you have your expectations. Wah. Well I had expectations. I expected a pony at Christmas. I expected a knight in shining armour.

(Checks watch, looks around, looks pointedly at audience.)

I expected not to EVER have to eat All-Bran.

(Moment in thought.) Yeah. Well. Life’s a beach.

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And for those interested in how script transpires on stage, here it is being performed for the first time by the fantastic Polly Harford: