Harry Turnbull's Reviews, 5 Aug 2021.
Drama on 3 - Terminal 3
Simon Stephens chats about his love for European theatre.
Drama on 3 loves to explore the dark, underbelly of European theatre. Poignant, agonising relationship predicaments by a slew of continental playwrights are often compared with Beckett and Pinter. But to my mind the works of dramatists such as Jon Fosse, Florian Zeller and in this instance, Lars Noren, have more than a passing resemblance to Spaghetti Westerns, infused with a dash of absurdist theatre.
How so? Well, many will recall Clint Eastwood in the films that created the blueprint for the genre as The Man With No Name.
Zeller’s acclaimed trilogy features the Mother, the Father and the Son whilst in Fosse’s I am the Wind the two characters are Him and The Other.
Now, in Noren’s own bleak look at personal turbulence we have She, He, Man and Woman. It’s not only the impersonal ambiguity but the taciturn dialogue,the pauses, the unfinished sentences - all remind one of Pinter but also Eastwood as the vengeful drifter.
And the often surreal nature of the surroundings and characters, the playful way time is distorted are all qualities of an absurdist nature.
Playwright Simon Stephens has long been an admirer of Scandanavian and European theatre and here enthusiastically introduces Terminal 3. Noren died recently of Covid-related complications and this unfortunate event seems to inspire Stephens to grasp the audience and say ‘ Here. you don’t know what you’re missing’.
Stephens himself in celebrated on the continent and feels part of that wider writing community. He told me: “When I was involved in script meetings at the Royal Court twenty years ago, we would get work from Scandanavia and Germany and I’d be thinking, this is new, there is a different agenda here. “It began a fascination with writers from Europe that are not so well known here but are huge elsewhere. Noren is iconic in Germany and
France but rarely performed here and when he is, it is at smaller theatres. My writing has been nourished by a fascination about what is happening in Europe yet artists of significance are far too often overlooked here.
“Take Jon Fosse. Fosse is an Ibsen award winner, he is massive.What I like is that on Drama on 3 there is a platform for these works, a way of introducing new ways of storytelling. When I was working on Fosse’s I am The Wind, it was fascinating to talk to him about his approach to dialogue. It’s about sound, poetry and aural landscape not just words as moving a plot forward.
“Some of this stuff is not seen enough in British theatre sadly. And this demands a question.What is drama? Is it to be populist and fill theatres or to explore new kinds of writing. Of course the answer is that it can be both.”
In Terminal 3, as in the radio broadcast of Fosse’s I am The Wind, Barnsley actor Shaun Dooley has been recruited for a story about two couples in a waiting room at a building housing a hospital and a mortuary. One is expecting a birth and the other has been summoned to identify a dead young man. The link soon becomes apparent.
A mournful exploration of lives, loves and despair, it evokes memories and feelings and ultimately love.
I remember reading the book by Solzhenitsyn and being absorbed by the desolation of the limitless Siberian landscape, the isolation of the gulag and the descriptions of claustrophobic, biting cold.
Anyone expecting that atmosphere to be rekindled here was disappointed. Rather than creating a soundscape to match the story, it was done by exposition.
For instance there were largely only references to the weather, to cold and to a temperature gauge.
Audio drama should be engaging the listener's imagination - we don't want to be told it's cold, we need to feel it.
Also, as Mike Walker adapted a version in 2008 and before that Tom Courtney did a reading in 1979, why the need to revisit this work?
Not for the first time it puzzles me how some of the works featured on Radio 4 actually get commissioned.
There is always room for acerbic satire on radio. Simon Evans dons a stetson, pulls out a sharpshooter and takes aim at the filthy rich. With such a massive target to aim at, it’s a breeze.
For instance, since the pandemic began, the number of billionaires has skyrocketed and their total wealth is two and half times the income of the United States.
Of course they are being helped along by central banks like the Bank of England which continues to pluck billions from the magic money tree to bolster the markets which is where a lot of this wealth lies.
Mr Evans is right to ponder why government’s are actually creating inequality instead of reversing it. Perhaps Keir Starmer should give this a listen as he appears to have no ammunition of his own.
One of those strange little curiosities happened while listening to this as I drove back from an appointment. I was thinking, I've heard of the Stanislavsky method but I am not intimately familiar with his work. I might have to do some homework.
En route I bobbed into Chester library to pick up a book I had on order. While there I was browsing and leafed through a book which appeared to be a love letter from Captain Kirk to Mr Spock. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy apparently did not speak in the couple of years before the USS Enterprise's first officer's death in 2015, and this story seemed to be a regretful but celebratory footnote. And there in the text was an explanation of Stanislavsky and how Nimoy was more method actor and Shatner more off-the-cuff. Very useful!
This production examines the methods of the maestro Stanislavsky and his acolytes, such as Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg.
The cleverly constructed plot sees a mega TV star Cressida Yorke preparing for a first stage appearance in The Seagull by contemplating suicide, she is such a bag of nerves.
The ghosts of Stan and co rock up to debate the nuances of the acting techniques of the Russian maestro and his followers. These include divergences of thought on the best approach whilst simultaneously trying to impress on the young actor how to go about her challenge.
An insight into method acting championed over the years by the likes of Marlon Brando and Daniel Day-Lewis.
HT, 5 Aug 21
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