When I was a drama student, the stage event that hit me hardest between the eyes was Waiting for Godot. It has been described as the play in which nothing happens, twice, but for me it was the most happening thing I’d ever seen. The change from day to night was achieved with stunning simplicity by a projected circle of light (the moon) rising from nowhere up the white back wall of the theatre auditorium. It was magic, and left me with an enduring love and fascination. Just because not much seems to happen, doesn’t mean it’s not a powerhouse of ideas and emotions.
Later, I was hit by the motormouth jokiness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and found their high speed demonstrations of meaning and reality and humour equally fascinating (although it’s not one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century, like Godot). Pirandello also grabbed me along the same lines, although the productions I saw never achieved the humour that I’ve always cherished as a theatre goer.
All of which explains some of my reactions to Chasing Waves. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, but its muscular intellectualism and humour is reminiscent of those three plays, all of which, incidentally, are referenced in the text and action. The power of the writing is enough to make one feel one is in a theatre, and visualising this bizarre debate between two philosophers and a box that may or not contain a cat, which may or not be dead (or indeed alive) is no problem at all. The argument is stimulated by bits of action, which, while necessarily small, are extremely funny.
The philosophers are Wittgenstein and Schrodinger, and from the start they are more aware than an audience is perhaps normally expected to be that they are, in fact, not. Schrodinger and Wittgenstein, that is. They are two actors – probably. One of them, at least, begins to doubt very seriously if he can be an actor, for what, after all, does an actor consist of? Likewise the writer, who may be a he, or indeed a she. How can they know, because they are in the play, not of it. Although have both met her (or him), although not as characters, but as actors. Even the audience becomes an area of doubt, as the characters/actors/philosophers mingle with them to try to pin down a reality. Reality? Forget it.
The point is, though, there is action, and interaction. The philosophers become characters (ie interesting human beings), and the confines of the stage also suggest a boundless world. The dialogue is sharp, intelligent, erudite, probing, ‘deep’. On stage I’m willing to bet it would be extremely funny, too.
At the end, in the wonderful and brave new world of ebooks, there is room for much much more, as well. Discussion, staging notes, director’s opinions, author’s opinion. (For Cally Phillips does exist, of course, whatever her philosopher/actors might think, and she is, of course, a she.) Which makes the whole package extremely stimulating and thought-provoking. For the intellectual reader a genuine feast, for someone who just wants to read a beautifully engaging play, a palpable hit. You see, you can’t get away from other writers, can you?
Reviewed by Jan Needle
(all good ebook retailers stock it) but WHSmith is usually good on a low price
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