TV UK, 16 August
Still at the Edinburgh Fringe: Victory at the Dirt Palace, Kitchen, and the revival of Shopping and Fucking.
Superficially, Victory at the Dirt Palace is a satire on American TV news, heavily influenced by King Lear.
Father and daughter rival newscasters battle it out for ratings, egged on by a couple of producers-cum-ugly-sisters, while New York suffers the worst act of domestic terrorism in history. Stop rolling your eyes: this show is a riot.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is famous for this sort of thing. Wacky Shakespeare adaptations and spoofs of contemporary mores that will amuse or annoy depending on your inclinations. But Victory at the Dirt Palace goes deeper than that, reinventing the family drama of Lear to examine bigger ideas like power and inheritance. Above all, it takes the audience into another world, which is only sort of like this one.
Both protagonists have ‘object permanence’ problems: presented with new information, they are unable to remember how they saw things before, or to imagine how others without the same information might see things. This peculiar psychological condition is a cute metaphor for the dumb relentlessness of TV news, its lack of depth and historical memory. TV in general is besotted with (though not particularly good at) novelty.
TV repeats are underrated, I think. You never really see the same programme twice because you always bring something new – and the better the programme, the more this is true. In theatre, though, revivals are absolutely essential. The differences between each production, and indeed each performance, are vital to the form. It is not just the viewer, but the producer, the director and the actors who bring something new.
Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking and Sarah Kane’s Crave are both classics of the 1990s, and both plays have been interpreted as comments on the rootlessness and alienation of the post-Thatcher generation. Both plays are revived at this year’s Fringe, and both productions to some extent transcend the peculiarities of 1990s Britain to shed light on the state of alienation today.
The former explores the transformation of relationships into ‘transactions’, a dated form perhaps for a persisting phenomenon: the emptying out of deeper meaning from human dealings. In the latter, the vacuum is filled with abuse and recrimination.
Both themes are picked up in Vanessa Badham’s Kitchen, a short and witty new play about human resource management in the home. Without mutual trust and a sense of common purpose, a relationship quickly degenerates into a business transaction, and without the same qualities, that soon gives way to a battle for domination.
But it is Crave’s focus on suffering and emotional damage that has really taken off in Blair’s Britain. Numerous Fringe shows this year deal with abuse, domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Most of these plays will have little to tell us in a couple of years, but the better ones have the depth to be reinterpreted and reinvented, while retaining a central quality that will never go away.
A bit like Quincy, but more so.
Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).
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