Tormented Teens, Head Demons & Wooden Willies!

What a veritable box of delights the bank holiday weekend has delivered to me. I’ve read about a man tormented by his friends abandonment of him; watched a play where the relatively only sane person gets shot and presumably dies; and watched grown men beat each other with their bras or whacking wooden willies.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years Of Pilgrimage – by Haruki Murakami  is possibly one of his more believable novels. Murakami writes about nightmarish situations which are relatable but usually too surreal to be taken seriously. In this novel though, whilst there is a small amount of the surreal, the power of dreams is considered by many to be our unconscious state talking to us, and so there is the element of suspended disbelief when reading the book.

Tsukuri’s four best friends at school all have names which mean colours, red, blue, white and black. Tsukuru is the only one whose name is colourless and this upsets him, he thinks he is the boring one of the group, the outsider. The five friends promise to stay together forever, but an opportunity comes for Tsukuru to study away from home in Tokyo. He visits his friends frequently, as promised, but one day he returns and his friends no longer want to see him again. No explanation is given; apparently he should know the reason why he has been ostracised but he doesn’t. He returns dejected to Tokyo, stops eating and looks death in the face; his hurt unbeknown to his friends. He recovers physically, but mentality he faces abandonment issues which plague him for years, leading to an inability to form meaningful relationships. What is the point of giving yourself to someone, giving them your whole being, if one day they turn around and toss you away like a piece of rubbish?

You assume you know someone…but you don’t…not really.

Sixteen years later Tsukuru finally embarks on a journey to find out what happened. He confronts his friends, visiting each one without warning, piecing together a jigsaw about his past. It is a hauntingly beautiful tale which questions how people’s actions can affect someone so much. Tsukuru had low self-esteem and being abandoned by his friends made him feel worse. How strange to find out that his friends thought he was the strong one, the survivor, the one most equipped to deal with the real world.

He thought he was plain, the colourless one whilst his friends thought him the best looking of the group, the achiever. It shows the differences with how we see ourselves, and how others see us. At times the novel is painful, you hurt when Tsukuru hurts, it is a novel where at times you see yourself, and at other times you see people you have known. It is a poignant tale which expands the mind, to make you think about how your words or actions might be misconstrued by people. If someone accuses you of something, can you really be sure that your friends know you well enough to stand up for you? Or will they fade into the background, vehemently agreeing with the perpetrator and leaving you out in the cold?  Once again, Murakami weaves a his magic in an excellent book which is hard to put down.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!!!(or in my case vegetable dinner!)

On Saturday I headed back down to London to watch A Lie of The Mind again. I had won a pair of tickets and as I don’t often win much I was claiming my prize! (This happened before I’d seen the play the first time, so I was praying it was going to be a good production!) I met my friend Janet and we headed to Waterloo and then had a pleasant stroll down the sunny Southbank towards The National Theatre for lunch. The usual entrance was closed off due to heightened security following the Manchester bombing, and the queue to get into the theatre was long and slow moving, so we continued down to The Globe and ate down there instead. 

After lunch we sauntered to the Southwark Playhouse where I tried to obtain my competition tickets. It took a while, despite me giving the theatre my name, they reserved my tickets in the name Laura Rogers – not Susan. (Laura Rogers, interestingly, is the name of both one of the actors in the play and my sister in law!) Anyway, we got to watch the play again, and second time was even better than the first. The actors seemed to have really relaxed into their roles and there were parts of the dialogue that I hadn’t picked up on my first visit which gave more insight into the various characters back stories. Understanding where these people came from and how they reacted to situations made the play flow through my head a lot better this time around.

I found it interesting that the Murakami book I’d picked out of my bookcase had similarities to the play I was watching.  The line which Beth (Ali Dowling) says still haunts me “This! This. This thought. You don't know this thought. How? How can you know this thought? In me."   As in Murakami’s book, people are so quick to judge, so quick to say they know what someone thinks or feels? How? How can they know? All of us, actor or man on the street, can figuratively paint a picture of happiness or confidence or pleasure on their face, yet feel deflated or angry or upset on the inside. Both texts are a lesson in being a little less judgemental about people; although actions speak louder than words and saying is often easier than doing!

Shall we have a cuppa before heading home?

After the play we grabbed a cup of tea and watched the world go by before heading back to Euston. It had been a warm day, so keeping hydrated was a necessity…any excuse for tea really! The actors only have about an hour and a half between the matinee and evening performances, so I was surprised to see Jake’s mum (Kate Fahy)standing at the bar having a drink with someone. Then I noticed Frankie (Michael Fox) hugging and chatting with people, and then Beth’s dad (John Stahl) walked passed us to where we’d sat the week before to meet friends. Sally (Laura Rogers) passed us with drink in hand and then Ali passed us and headed out for a short while. It was refreshing to see everyone chilled out between performances (the week before the group were rushing out to grab something to eat together between shows.)

I decided to pop to the loo before heading off up and upon my return was surprised to see Ali had popped over to our table and was chatting with Janet. She was surprised to hear we’d come down to watch it twice, especially seeing as it was such a humid day. I told her I wasn’t intending on coming down to see the play, but after reading the script/book I had to. Beth’s character had grabbed me about page 5 and I had to see it. I said I had won the tickets to the second show and this gave me an excellent opportunity to look at the other characters in more detail. I mentioned that I had blogged about the play, and the more I wrote and thought about it, the more questions I had. It was like an onion, peeling through the various layers to see what was at the heart of the matter. As we chatted it became clear that as the play had gone through its run, each of the actors had discovered more and more things about their characters, and I wondered if that was why this performance was even more nuanced than last weeks. It seemed a shame that just as they got to know their characters, the play had come to the end of its run!

Speaking of endings, I hadn’t thought too deeply about the ending last week. I think I was too busy processing what I had just seen, rather than what happened after we’d said goodbye to the characters. There is no cut and dry answer. The script doesn’t tell you how each character moves on so I suppose it depends upon whether you like a happy ending or not! It was something that Ali and I picked up on as we’d both read the play…nothing is given away. From watching the play, we said we assumed that Frankie died, as the play ends he is so static on the sofa it’s like he’s already a corpse. Ali said that was how Michael had chosen to play it, so Janet told Ali to tell him to give his fingers a wiggle on the last show…just to give the audience that little bit of hope! I guess that’s the good thing about some plays, they are so open to interpretation that there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s your gut reaction when you leave the theatre as to whether there is hope for those characters you have left behind on stage.

Grab my stick and give it a whack!

I have a friend who does Morris dancing; her husband sings in a folk band. I know very little about either pursuit, however, I’m an open minded person and am willing to find out about things, so when I heard that they would be at the Chester Folk Festival (in Kelsall not Chester as it happened) I said I would pop along for an hour or two on the Sunday to say hello. Now this isn’t the first time I’d been to the festival, I popped along last year, but ended up sitting in a field chatting with friends so I didn’t hear or see any of the shenanigans.

When I arrived, I found The Wilson Family were doing a warm up workshop in the local church. They sounded amazing. This was the first time I had really heard them sing, and the acoustics of the church really added to their harmonies. The Wilson Family is an English folk music group from County Durham, and consists of five brothers: Tom, Chris, Steve, Ken and Mike. For more info about them click here

Afterwards my friend and I wandered over to the beer tent, grabbed a pint and after having a catch up and putting the world to rights, we went to watch the Morris dancing. I thought Morris dancing was essentially clogs, bells and the waving of handkerchiefs, (apparently that’s the Cotswold dancing) however, Anne was on hand to give me a quick potted history of Morris dancing, and how it varies from region to region. I was too busy watching and listening to take many photographs until I remembered to do so at the end of the proceedings, but here are three of the different types of Morris dancing I photographed.

Border Morris Dancing - from the Welsh
border counties. The dancers have blackened faces which originally were used to confer anonymity on the person dancing. Morris dancers lay out a receptacle for people to put money in, so it was considered to be a form of begging which was illegal. Blackening the face with soot or coal dust was a bit like wearing a mask so people couldn’t be identified by the authorities. The dancers wear “rags” - old clothes covered with ribbons and hats adorned with pheasant feathers. Many of the dances involve short sticks being hit against each other, and by the way these dances were being performed they were held in such a manner that it looked like willy whacking!

Rapper Sword Dance – from the North East. The rapper is a two handled flexible sword. The dancers hold tightly to each end of the sword as they skip and weave amongst each other, the swords above their heads forming intricate patterns. The dancers also skip over the swords, and do backflips over them. At the end of the dance the swords have been weaved together to form a “star” which is held aloft.

North West Morris - from Cheshire/Lancashire. Historically the dances often took place during Rose Queen carnivals. Dancers in two lines would dance in a procession, and these are the dancers I remember from Frodsham carnival when I was growing up! The costumes were usually white and the dancers wore clogs and flowery hats. As you can see from the photo the dancers were carrying hooped garlands of flowers.  

It was a wonderful insight into the world of folk festivals, and the thing that struck me the most was the camaraderie. So many people from all areas of the country seemed to know each other and more importantly were routing for each other. It was a great event to experience and one I will watch out for next year.