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Archive for June 9th, 2008

So, Waitrose want to sell milk in bags.     What goes around, comes around.

I remember that in the 1970s, milk came in bags.   You were given a special plastic jug to stick your milk bag in, cut off the corner with a pair of scissors, and simply poured.     As long as you were nifty with the scissors the pouring was drip free.    Too small a hole, and it took aeons to fill a glass;   too big and the whole lot came out in a tidal wave totally flooding out your breakfast cereal.     Milk speedily moved on to tetrapak and we now have the hard plastic bottles.

Interestingly, Canada stuck with milk bags, and now sells 60% of its milk that way.     We could save 100,000 tonnes of waste plastic bottles if all the UK milk came in bags.

I think this time round though, you are supposed to empty the whole bag into the jug.

Waitrose Milk Bags

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I tend to enjoy derived theatre – that is a play which is constructed by the creative team as it goes along, and when everyone is happy, written down and performed.    It is a risky strategy, because as performance deadlines loom, the pressure incresases to get it in its final form.    When it works, it can capture the inventive and imaginative more than rehearsing a play from a fixed script.     Thankfully, most derived theatre tends to work pretty well, and this was no exception.

As a starting point, Jan Švankmajer, a Czech surrealist artist made a film of this dark tale in 2000, and this was an attempt to stage the piece.     In essence, the tale is about a childless couple who are desperate for a baby, and end up adopting a piece of wood.   The wood becomes an animated creature, grows and has an unusual and voracious appetite.    “Be careful what you wish for …..” might be the moral.

But it is in the telling that the tale becomes alive:    told through the thoughts of a young child, a role marvelously inhabited with uncanny eeriness in an astonishing performance by young Rebecca Smith.    At the start, with the house lights still up, she wandered down through the auditorium , bouncing a ball – she threw it to a member of the audience, climbed over a seat or two, and held out her hands for the ball back.    She knew more about her community than she let on – about the childless couple, about the paedophilic old man and about the cellar – she had power over the adults and knew how to use it.      Hers was the pivotal role of the piece;    it was at times a very disturbing performance to watch, and it was very unusual to see a professional production where a performance by a child is central to the action.

We were taken into a magical and sinister world through Kai Fischer’s sets and lighting and into the minds of the characters through use of Finn Ross’ projections, adding a whole new dimension to the piece.   Babies appeared in the glass panels of the childless couple’s door, embryos covered the walls of the apartment and flocks of birds and butterflies crossed the backdrop.    The stage floor was peaty earth, but symbolically barren as it was dry and waiting for rain.     Matthew Lenton directed exciting and busy ensemble set pieces, such as when the rain finally arrived, but also vignettes like the old lady pulling whole cabbages out through the peat – almost like a birth process.     There was a real cat – taken from a pram.    We were in a wonderfully surreal place.

Christopher Shutt’s soundscape complimented the staging.    He has worked with Theatre de Complicite including on Street of Crocodiles (and I think I recognised the ‘drip’ in the cellar) and must have relished this project.

The rest of the cast worked hard and really brought the story to life.   Not quite a 5 star show, as it flagged in the middle a little, could have a few rough edges developed, and I am still not sure if this play was just about the main story, or whether we were supposed to examine the paranoia of child safety, and the isolation that can bring.      Indeed, with the news that modern children are suffering as a result of over-protection in a report by the Children’s Commission to the UN , it could not have beem more timely.    It was a very interesting night out.    The National Theatre of Scotland was able to resource this production, and allow it to travel beyond the Citizens in Glasgow.     

 

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