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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Here's to a merry (?) Christmas

When telly was black and white my mother and I first tasted Ibsen with The Master Builder. The play wasn’t well served by a rolling eyes/vowels actor from the Wolfit school, possibly Sir Donald himself. After half an hour we learned that to celebrate house completions the master builder traditionally climbs on to the roof and does something symbolic.

My mother said gloomily, “He’s going to fall off, isn’t he? It’s that kind of play.” A nod being as good as a wink I turned off the telly. BTW, he does. 

For years I didn’t try to stop this gap. When, reluctantly, I decided I was now grown-up and all grown-ups had at least seen Hedda Gabler, Ibsen seemed to disappear from our domestic screens, possibly when colour was introduced. Norwegian drama doesn’t profit from reds and yellows.

This Christmas VR and I are doing the decent thing. At considerable expense I’ve acquired DVDs of Hedda, The Doll’s House and – erm - Uncle Vanya. Yes I now know Uncle is not Ibsen. Make do and mend, I say.

To compensate we will also re-watch Bunuel’s surreal The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. I first saw it with Joe but under strained circumstances. We’d sunk three pints each beforehand and missed some significant passages. I remember laughing a lot, as did Joe. I’m less confident about Hedda.

WIP Second Hand (51,738 words)
Florence said, “Perhaps I’d passed my sell-by date as a spouse. Just two years of marriage. I did have this secret belief that I didn’t deserve it, that I might have used up my wifeliness in a succession of beds west of London. That was all nearly ten years ago and I’m probably cured by now. But you must promise if I start prying; living your life vicariously.”


  1. Very interesting final sentence in SH, very good. As for cinema and missed passages: I ALWAYS turn captions on if they are available. Adapting to them is easy, the script is before one's eyes, and in movies with poor sound or fast paced dialog (or both) I find them indispensable.

  2. MikeM: Sub-titles. We always do that, even with DVD operas that are "nominally" in English. The interruptions in this case were the direct result of what is mentioned in the first part of the sentence. The people occupying seats in our row got to loathe us.

  3. Right. No captions at the theater. I'd pictured you and Joe fuming and giggling in front of the tube.

  4. For much of my youth school plays formed the vast bulk of my theatrical experience. Our girls usually dressed up as boys but the boys' school had got past the boys in dresses stage and borrowed a couple of our girls for the few female parts required - Ophelia and Gertrude I recall, and St Joan. One year they got really bold and did 'An Enemy of the People'. I was truly quite wowed by this at about 14, but oddly it didn't spark any further forays into Ibsen, and I'm still pretty ignorant.

    After that they did Brendan Behan's 'The Quare Fellow' which I also seem to remember quite enjoying, but it confirmed to my mother that the master in charge of drama productions had fallen terminally into a morbidly leftish 'dark brown' condition. My brother only ever landed the most marginal of roles as an extra anyway.

  5. Lucy: I've felt this obligation (towards Ibsen) for several years now but purging it has proved expensive. DVD performances are hedged round with copyright and international restrictions to the pont where oldish BBC recordings are only available in the USA and limited to playing on US machinery.

    Poor old Brendan. I can remember when he was the darling of TV because he was always drunk and could be relied on to say the f-word. And then he died. I suspect your drama master was quite right. If so it seems I have a political as well as a literary obligation.

    I envisage an austere Christmas, brightened up by a half case of Burgundy, the cost of which makes me wince when I recall it.