April 01, 1994

Zero to Naught

My Mathematics
Rose English

Festival Tent
Memorial Drive

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The name’s Charlie and, obviously, I’m a horse. I’ve just been in Adelaide for the Festival. I wasn’t too sure about it all myself. It was my agent’s idea really. Good for your CV he said. You need to diversify, get into the arts more. But that’s what he said when he found that other play for me- Equus.

Well, anyway I’m back doing theatre and frankly it hasn’t been up to much. It’s this naff show called My Mathematics. I’m working with this Rose English lady. She’s nice enough but really I think she’s a born soloist. I don’t think she’s used to collaboration. You know, ensemble work. I said to her- sure, this is criticism but its constructive criticism. I’m on your side babe. I’m not your babe, she said testily, and what’s more the hats are staying.

I said it’s not the hats. This isn’t about hats, the sombreros or even those coney things. This is about larger issues. I mean, what’s your premise I keep asking. So she talked about her notion of the Arena, the interface between the performer and the audience, that it’s a voyeuristic, co-dependent thing. That it must be ruptured and questioned. We must revel, she said, in the gap between understanding and bafflement. So that’s why I have all this random narrative, she said, and disconcerting audience participation with people getting rubbed with my eyelashes or being asked to cut them off with scissors. It’s challenging the habituation of the theatre. You’ve got to have courage Charlie, she said, and, if you don’t mind me saying, some vision.

Well that got me. When you’ve done Equus you can talk to me about vision I said. I said we’re talking tired and fatuous here. Old haddock dressed up as a new idea. Or maybe not much of an idea at all. I know my Wittgenstein, I’m no slouch with the Frankfurt Boys but I still don’t know what the Foucault you are on about. And the mathematics. Is zero a number ? All that zero through to nought bollocks. My number theory’s no great shakes but Rose I said, that sounds like rhetoric to me, gesture. It’s not amounting to anything. And that whimsy in Act One I said, talking to your chaise longue, the cod stuff with the accordionist, it’s like a forty five minute Glen Baxter cartoon. It’s sort of funny but you can’t sustain it. The people won’t sit for it, I said. Well Charlie, that’s where you come in, she said in a tone I didn’t much like.

I’ve done a lot of tent work in my time. Showy I admit – but spangled for good reason, I’ve been pushed about, any actor has. But that stuff in Act Two really got on my tits if you’ll excuse my French. Tense and dense she calls me- well that’s the pot calling the kettle if I may say. Look, I tried to humour her- undoing the knots, carrying that dumb little basket. But I draw the line at the silk blanket and that frigging hat. And all that round and round business, the aria arena and so on. I was getting to the end of my tether. And the singing. Where are we, we are not in Wembley, we are not in Radio City. You are not wrong.

The only thing for it was to try and ginger things up a bit, you know- some Artaud. Biting the front row. I’ll give her theatre of cruelty I thought – and so she gets ratty and starts shoving sugar at me. What kind of entertainment’s that ? Handing around the sugar went out with vaudeville. Did you see anyone eating sugar in Equus ? So there I am dying – the crowd’s groaning, the show’s going down the toilet and when I try something a bit creative she resorts to all this impro stuff, trying to upstage me. I feel tremendously soothed, she keeps saying to me and then she bends down and I’m supposed to spank her with the horse whip. There she is with her bum sticking out of her costume and I’m supposed to do the honours. I’ve got a lot to sort out with the mens’ group when I get home.

I’ve talked to the agent about this. He’s on probation for a bit. The discussions with the Wuhan acrobats didn’t develop into anything. They said my Mandarin wasn’t good enough. Which is fair enough, it isn’t. Besides I’m sick of ensembles. I’m working on my own show. I’m finalising the grant application right now. It’s based on another artist of the theatre who was ignored and forgotten – just like Miss English’s Rosita Clavell. Another misunderstood Palomino who didn’t get a chance to express himself. This one’s for you Ed. I’m calling it The Thousand Eyes of Wilbur Post.

The Adelaide Review, April 1994.

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