Men In The Cities (ish)

mitc

Our washing machine sounds like it’s having a heart attack. It’s rumbling around so violently it has actually managed to dislocate itself from the wall and twist to the side, like it’s running away.

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Two years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe I abandoned my friends to go and see Men In The Cities alone. I got a bit lost on my way to the Traverse Theatre but eventually made it and sat down in my seat. There was a point, when he does this four page poem, this ferocious yell that I remember perfectly, with the music playing and the lights glittering and the fans blowing around him. By the end I thought differently about theatre. My world had just been splintered and I’d sat there as Chris Goode stuck each little piece back into my skin with his words. I didn’t care about the rest of the audience, he was speaking to me. I just sat there and wept. I tweeted afterwards that I felt it should really be appropriate theatre etiquette for an audience member to go up and hug a performer instead of clapping. He tweeted back saying he thought that was perfectly acceptable. I remember using the phrase ‘earth-shattering’.

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We had only been seeing each other for like a week and a half. I asked him, in a very roundabout way, not wanting to sound too keen in any way at all, if *hypothetically* he fancied going to see this play with me in a few weeks that I’d seen two years ago and was probably in my top 3 of all time. Emphasis very strongly on hypothetical- if we were still a thing, if he was free, if he wanted to go (but mainly the first thing because I’m not planning ahead I promise okay please don’t run away).

Men In The Cities was the hypothetical play.

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I have seventeen tabs open on an early modern essay I should be writing as well as one that’s ten minutes into The Apprentice but I can’t stop thinking about the feature I want to write, the interviews I haven’t transcribed and am terrified I’m going to lose because I don’t quite understand Audacity yet, this piece that I’m not exactly sure I’m going to publish and the fact that I’m meeting his family in a fortnight. There are thirteen books in scattered piles by my bedside that I want to read. There’s the half-marathon I keep saying I’m going to run. There are the unwritten scraps that are going to make up a monologue, the notes on a play I want to direct, the to-do list that just keeps getting longer.

***

We get a bit lost on our way to the Tobacco Factory but eventually make it and sit down in our seats. Second row but there is no one in the front row. So front row. I assure him there is no audience participation.

That point comes, the poem. It has the same words, the same theatrical elements, but I don’t cry and I get a bit annoyed with myself for not feeling more strongly. For not feeling the same.

I don’t feel shattered. It’s a bit like when I went to see Constellations– the play I had idolised for years, had obsessed over and directed a slice of- and was thoroughly disappointed when I finally saw the professional production. Except that can be written off like a film not living up to a book- you imagine the characters differently, the way they speak, walk, dress, yell at eachother. I had read Constellations before but not seen it. Men In The Cities doesn’t have that excuse. This was my brain escalating what I’d seen so that it could never be as good as I remembered.

When you go see a play with someone who doesn’t watch or make much theatre, its like there’s a pretension radar constantly buzzing. When I first saw Men In The Cities I just felt an overwhelming sense of raw honesty, beauty, something I’d never felt before. When I saw it again I felt uncomfortable at the theatricality of it, the fakeness, the awareness of a pause for effect. I think I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want him to think that I thought that this was what theatre was about, or my kind of theatre anyway. Which feels like the most horrible thing to say because I admire Chris Goode hugely and am enormously grateful for the way Men In The Cities changed the way I felt and thought about theatre when I first saw it.

I think I needed it at the time. Maybe I’ve changed and the play hasn’t.

***

I’ve found myself craving the London aftermath of theatre. The response to a show in Bristol and in London is worlds apart. I haven’t come across a review or essay on a play in Bristol that has made me want to a) cry, b) run and book a ticket, c) lie down and die because nothing can ever be better than those words so I may as well end it on a high. I feel so jealous when I read such different, outrageous, well written views on shows in London. This by Meg Vaughan is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. I miss the abundance of original criticism that London has, where people use demolition gifs to make a point. I love the argument, the anger, the passion. I haven’t found that yet here. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. (If you know of any, please, please send them my way. I will buy you ice cream.)

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I went to a workshop with a playwright last week who said one of the best pieces of advice he’s been given was that it’s all about ‘unchoosing’. It’s about making the choice of what not to do, and then the other things will kind of come clearer.

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The washing machine has calmed down.

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Men In The Cities second time round was not quite what I was expecting.

But we made it to the hypothetical play.

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Men In The Cities (ish)