Katie Mitchell's The Waves
Last night, I saw Katie Mitchell's stage adaptation of Woolf's The Waves at the National Theatre (they're running two more shows, Thurs. and Fri., for any of my local readers who have interest). Brilliant - a hybrid of narrative, theatre, and film. A narrator (Woolf herself, perhaps? A husky-voiced woman hunched over a desk with a cigarette and a pen, pensive but assured - perhaps a cliche representation, but Mitchell used it well) read scenes from the novel itself, and from other Woolf works (I was able to identify a few things, journal entries, A Sketch of the Past - not all...but Woolf recycles so much, it's hard to tell at times); the actors performed; actors not involved in the action at hand filmed those who were, projecting the images onto a screen dropped over the stage. The simultaneity was intense - the action as a whole unfolding while the minutest detail unravelled in tandem behind it...each character, separate, but on stage finally together (perhaps how Woolf intended, cutting so quickly from character to character, embodying them as the six/seven sides of a single carnation at dinner...) and regarding the others' individual reactions to the death of Percival, detached, watching it only on screen. And finally (achieving first Paul Fort's and then Oscar Wilde's dream), Mitchell has (unwittingly perhaps) engaged all of the senses simultaneously (at least if you sat in the front row, like me)...voice & music & the clatter of dishes, footsteps & tap-dancing & laundry flapping; the actors, at once so real, juxtaposed with the acute, painful detail of flower petals afloat in a bowl, a face - open-eyed, breathing out - underwater, red fingernails, a letter-opener; cigarette smoke; an acrid explosion on my tongue - cigar smoke; and finally, dust beaten from the gravel one woman walked in, dust kicked up to land in my eye.
The narrative decision Mitchell makes at the end, however... I will leave this blank so as not to spoil the ending of the novel or play for anyone who intends to read/see them. But whoever wants to talk about it...
I didn't want to leave at the end. Conversely, I wanted nothing but to leave, and beat my way mercilessly through the crowd at the coat-check to finally win the cold empty night air. I'm glad I went alone to this play. I could not talk about it at first, and still cannot completely. I wished that no one would talk after these things - why fritter away the effect by positing opinions, chit-chatting lamely, posing pretentiously until you have had time to think about what you've seen? The south bank, alone with my footfall and the purple lights of the theatre and the oleaginous black gleam of the river, in a light rain, following a line of street lamps...it was relief. Walking to the theatre and back...I was so nostalgic for London & for memories there, wanted so much to live there again (meeting Shadie for dinner earlier, he'd commented: "You're so happy to be here!" I was...I love Brighton, but London will always be "my city," the closest to home I've come to so far). Then, to get on the near-empty tube and rock and sway back to Victoria station... I wasn't alone. I'm never alone in that city. (And it made me think again about Woolf, about The London Scene...but now I'm in circles.)