Saturday, November 10, 2012

Calixto's Forests

Calixto Bieito - the bad boy days....  I was there.  Even now, everything written about Calixto's work  still refers back to his ENO work, almost a decade ago: A Masked Ball (that's the one with the toilets) and Don Giovanni (sex and violence more generally).  I was his assistant director on both shows - and I also wrote the dramaturgical pieces for the programmes.  Today, as at the time, I have no idea what all the fuss was about.  I'd already directed my own Don Giovanni - so I knew that for the 21st century this had to be a piece about sex, violence, death and religion.  What else do people think that piece is about?  To my mind, Calixto's main achievement was to recover the comedy.  Masked Ball was a brilliant transmogrification, shifting the questions around radical political change into the era of the Spanish transition.  It wasn't really about toilets.

Anyway - nice to see him back on the British stage, and nice to see Christopher Simpson acting for him (Chris was B in Double Tongue - the play I directed just after working with Calixto on Giovanni).  Forests has elements of the old enfant terrible about it - although these days Calixto is pushing 50, so maybe he's just terrible now.  I felt very aware of his middle age throughout the piece: there's a sense of an artist dealing with mortality, aware that his moral fury is futile, a kind of tiredness buzzing underneath all the characteristic energy.  It speaks to those of us who work in culture and who value humanity at the present moment - it draws off our disillusionment, the existential challenge of carrying on our attempt to live well in a world which so clearly and decisively denies that aspiration.

Much has been made of Calixto's Shakespearean collage of a text - and it's quite fun in a sort of crossword-puzzle way.  But it's not about Shakespeare.  It's not really about the text either - except perhaps the language as music.  Rather the work unfolds through a series of extraordinary images and contrasting energies, unravelling rhythmically like the movements of a symphony.  At times the acting is very generalised - perhaps that's an inevitable side-effect when there are no characters and the text is only an approximation to the mood - and so some of it can seem trite.  Youthful enthusiasm takes up a substantial amount of time at the start...  but the latter sections, dealing with the nightmare world we have made and the fact that somehow we have to come to terms with dying in it - these are extraordinary.   

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