So that’s it - SCALE is done. I returned home to not-so-sunny Congleton today, and although I am probably too tired, and still too close to the project, to write about it properly now, I feel the need to say something. So, I am going to.
Yesterday was difficult and hectic, but we pulled it off. We got a few laughs, which is always good, and by the end of the day, our inevitable exhaustion had given the piece a softness that worked in our favour. A good number of people came to see the piece, and all of the feedback was very positive. I think that we have learned a lot about collaboration from this process, and it has proved to be the starting point that I predicted it would be, inspiring its successor and, if we can cheekily claim the credit, another totally unconnected piece of theatre.
So, what now? Hopefully, my next project will be with my own company, Cat Alive, though I am still going to post here, using this space for general musings and ideas on theatre and performance, as well as notes about potential projects and things I am doing with Cat Alive. For example, I just finished posting the cards up from the Imagine project, and I had a great deal of fun distributing index cards in the University of Warwick library for the Projected Futures project. Now that I have connections in other universities, perhaps that can be expanded, and I can continue to play psychic amongst the well-thumbed textbooks of other institutions. I am also willing to post them out, as I have explained in the link above.
I am also hoping to go over the tags for this blog to make sure that they are all in proper order, so navigation via tags/theme will be easier. So please, stick around!
SHOW DAY (yesterday)
“I adopted the posture, dressed in things I never would have worn for you” (from SCALE)
Aside from the two unnamed protagonists (we know what their names are, but we’re not telling), SCALE has a third character, and that’s Harry Grindell Matthews, speaking through a time-travelling bakelite wireless.
Matthews, about whom I’ve posted before (here, here, here and here) made his home in Clydach and although, Vinci-like, he invented several things before their time (one of the first working prototypes for a mobile phone, for instance) he is remembered mostly for having invented a “death ray”, which device he was filmed demonstrating by Pathe back in 1924. The story goes that Matthews,invited by the Ministry of Defence to go to London and demonstrate it, tried to play hardball -you come here and see it on my terms.
They did, and said it didn’t work. And then it was buried. In his final years — Matthews outlived the Swansea Blitz, dying a few weeks after the final shots of the Battle of Britain — he became increasingly reclusive. Matthews’ house on that Clydach hill seemed almost to grow strange Heath-Robinson electric fences of his own design, and stories abounded of cars and motorcycles that would mysteriously break down on the stretch of road that passed by his home.
I imagined him sitting alone in his final years, still tinkering. I don’t think that the real Matthews would necessarily have said the things I ascribe to him, but as a symbol, as a story, he has a certain power.
Graham Isaac, in his poem “Ambition is Critical (Swansea Edition)”, said of his experiences of this city:
…history is both a sail and an anchor,
The flying flag and impossible yardstick.
Matthews is, in SCALE, the symbol of that, the inspiration and the regret that colours enterprise in this city. He’s a cautionary tale. He asks us, where do we compromise, where do we collaborate, where do we aim our research? What future are we looking for in the work we do?
Some time later, I would see the footage
Of Harry Grindell Matthews and the Death Ray.
He flickered, silent, moving newsreel-fast
Pressing switches, checking dials on his device.
A lightbulb flashed. An object fell from the sky.
He told me, as a boy in wartime
He played in Clydach on the hill
Near the aging inventor’s home.
He wondered at the powered fences
Soaked up all the stories,
Imagined a world the man had designed:
Beams of flashgordon light
Swatting bombers from the night,
Skywritten warnings and news of war.
British Tommies in Welsh-built rocketpacks
Swooping into Berlin and abducting
Werner Von Braun from his home before
The Yanks and the Russians even get involved.
By the time the time the Japanese capitulate
To rayguns and riveted rocketships
Built of Port Talbot steel and Swansea copper
We have already built fleets with dragons inside them
Breathing blackandwhite trails of sparks and smoke and fire,
En route to the Moon, or Venus, or Pluto,
Englishmen at the helm, but made in the Valleys.
This boy’s own promise of a golden age
Made in Wales.
Aneurin Bevan, speaking in Trafalgar Square in 1956.