Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Memory Cells" - October 2009

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Dammit. Saturday night and I'm still nowhere on this one. Maybe I missed something important, or I'm just not bright enough to work it out. I'll have to give up and ask for people to post any better interpretations they have of the ending…

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I’ll need to be fair and admit that I rarely enjoy endings that are open to interpretation – too much like watching The X Files, Lost or Twin Peaks where the writers don’t know where they are headed either… But even if Welsh did know what she wanted to say with the ending, it simply hasn’t been successfully conveyed to the audience.

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Guess I’m not getting any help on this one. Right, as best as I can make out, either her ’escape’ at the end (beginning) was her deathbed delusion. Or her capture and imprisonment was his delusion after she eluded him. Or maybe it was her nightmare after her lucky escape from his clutches. I suppose those all fit, but they are also all pretty pointless and surely take away from the strength of the piece as a whole. Why would writer Louise Welsh do that when it was all working so well up to then? The strong characterisation and powerful performances were making the shifting dynamic between imprisoned Cora and her captor Barry really interesting. And it was nice watching the timeline markers fall into place.

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Damn you Joyce McMillan! I can’t believe you let me down like that.

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I’ll have to say that Kirstin McLean gave a very sharp performance and transformed believably from frail, infirm and broken to strong and vibrant. And that Tam Dean Burn was wonderfully creepy and managed to make Barry convincingly unhinged. Oh yes, and the set was really good.

God I wish we gave star ratings. Then I could just give it 4 stars, waffle on a bit and pretend I’d understood it. But I don’t know what I’m worrying about – Joyce McMillan’s review is due out tomorrow. Joyce will make sense of it all for me.

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It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just me. I saw the looks of bewilderment on the audience when the lights went up. I heard enough scraps of conversation to know most of them didn’t have a clue about the ending (and that it had taken many until near the end to realise we were going backwards.) I even spoke with a few of them about it on the way out so I know it wasn’t just me.

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Okay, what the hell happened this evening? Nice bit of theatre, unsure it really needed the whole ‘reverse timeline’ structure but I did ‘get it’. At least I thought I did until the last five minutes – but I’ve got absolutely no idea what happened after that. Not really a problem though is it? Just forget about it - move on. But I’ve got to write a review of it…and I e-mailed The Arches for an image so they know I'm seeing it. I could always just go for the whole “more questions than answers” cliché or even not mention the end at all. I mean, most people won't have seen the show anyway so they won't know I've skipped anything. But at least I’ve bought myself a few days to work it out - I’ve stuck up a short post saying I won’t comment on the show until its run finishes to avoid spoiling it for people.

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I can't really write about my thoughts on this show in our usual manner without revealing too many things that would spoil it for those planning to see it. So, I'll hold off on posting my reaction until after its short run finishes on Saturday. But I will say that I did enjoy the show and the performances from Kirstin McLean and Tam Dean Burn are both excellent. And for those of you who have already seen the show, well you won't find any answers here - I haven't the faintest idea what happened in the last five minutes either... Maybe I'll have worked it out by Sunday.

Memory Cells has now completed its run at The Arches
Image by Niall Walker used with permission

12 Heckles

Tam Dean Burn said...

Hi. I think it's wonderful that you cared so much about our show that you have tried so hard to figure out what was going on at the end of the play and I fully understand why it's been so difficult for you. It's maybe not really my place to go in to it so all I'll say is that the ending of our show was not exactly as Louise had written it and it might be an idea if our director Sam Rowe explained what was behind his thinking on it so I will text him ( in a wee while - it's still early doors Sunday morning - extra hour weyhey! ) and tell him I've posted this...

Sam said...

If there is a degree of fantasy involved, whose fantasy is it and where does it end/begin? As someone who has watched Cora's fate rewind, what do you want for her? For me there is a clear idea at the core of the ending, though other interpretations are perfectly valid.

Statler said...

Thank you both for taking the time to comment. It's certainly been a show that left me with plenty to think about, but I'm afraid the frustration level was a little too high for my taste. And telling me "other interpretations are perfectly valid" doesn't help matters as I'm afraid I'm very much a right-or-wrong-answer kind of person. Of course I appreciate that's a problem with me and not a problem with the show.

But if this is a choose-your-own-ending type situation I'll always 'choose' the version that leaves most of the events intact. So in this case I guess that means, for me, it was all a deathbed remembrance by Cora and she changed the ending (on the basis that a memory is more 'reliable' than it being a delusion/nightmare of either character).

Tam said...

Aye, post modernism has a lot to answer for and not a lot to offer understanding in my book...

Sam said...

Statler, I think your interpretation is very apt. Ultimately the ending is an image of release; be it Cora's deathbed fantasy, an "if only" moment, a release into death or a combination of all three. I agree that the idea the play is all his fantasy could be seen to undermine what has gone before, but I don't think that idea holds up to much analysis , e.g. why would Barry fantasies that Cora causes him so much frustration and that he rejects her? I guess if you don't like open ended ideas then you were indeed never going to like it, but thank you for interrogating it so thoroughly!

Tam said...

In Louise's play, the ending is a scene of the two characters about to descend the staircase to the basement where Cora will be imprisoned and die. The final image is her caught in the blazing summer sunshine. It appears like a happy ending but the audience know what is to come for her. These other open ended "interpretations" come from misunderstanding or misguided post modernist indulgence, in my humble opinion, and don't serve the play well.

Statler said...

I have to admit that although I can understand the attraction of Sam's intended image of 'release', for me Louise's original would have been an incredibly powerful moment of theatre.

Thanks for your contributions - we really appreciate them.

Lisa said...

Personally I really enjoyed the fact that the ending was open to interpretation and that my opinion at to what it might have meant differed to my companions. Blaming postmodernism is a pretty lazy cop-out we hear all too often, it is akin to using the phrase "its pc gone mad" in my book. Abstract movements, surrealism etc have all come before postmodernism and offer similar openness to interpretation which makes for engaging, dialogic art.

Tam said...

I agree with Lisa that 'political correctness' has been a tool used to narrow and prevent debate but my attacking what strongly appears to be postmodernist theory and practice applied to the direction of this play is not meant to do any such thing. It was me after all who instigated this discussion...The other categories mentioned are subgenres of modernism, a theory aimed at understanding and refining perception whilst postmodernism is quite the opposite - a destructive fallacy that all interpretations can be 'deconstructed' and therefore all interpretations are equally valid. Surely the playwright's interpretation is most valid and all others involved should be attempting to serve that cause? I was under the impression that Sam was attempting to do this with the ending but it is clear from his comments here that that is not the case - " other interpretations are perfectly valid ". This was never discussed as such in rehearsal and when it came to it in the production, my back was literally turned. Otherwise I would have fought tooth and nail ( as I did with other attempts to subvert Louise's interpretation ). This is a play that puts great demands on an audience to understand the structure and allows for understanding to be gained at different times and levels. I thought we all worked very hard to assist that cause without taking any easy options and so therefore I am disappointed to find that we blew it to an extent in the last five minutes for the sake of a spurious postmodernist directorial device at odds with the play as written.
btw..I know Louise is away hillwalking so I am going to have to tell her about this wee stooshy tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

People!

The ending was rather magical and subtle too, as it picked up one of the main threads of the play, that of the myth of Persephone (aka Kora - geddit?!), her abduction by the god of the underworld, her 'escape' and return to her grieving mother and the world of the living, at least once a year, every spring. Myths involve cycles and transformations, but their characters never change. Kora is always a girl, she always yearns for her mother and she always 'escapes', only to be forced to return. It's therefore not a 'happy ending' as such - it's a point in a cycle. Well done, Sam Rowe, for capturing that moment on stage.

David said...

"In Louise's play, the ending is a scene of the two characters about to descend the staircase to the basement where Cora will be imprisoned and die. The final image is her caught in the blazing summer sunshine. It appears like a happy ending but the audience know what is to come for her."

I have to agree with Anonymous - the ending is more subtle and affecting the way Sam has it. It effectively manages to convey the ideas from Louise's ending (despair, horror, etc all acutely contrast with the bright shining summer light)... but by showing her about to ascend the stairs it's also able to shade the audience with a more bittersweet suggestion: the life of Cora we never got to appreciate, the 'real' Cora, Cora in the world, sunglassed, young, happy, in love, bathed in sun. It's fairly clear how the story ends from how the story develops, so I think that affords the play a bit of leeway on how it approaches its ending. The play need not match the story step for literal step, especially if to do otherwise illuminates other aspects of the characters not yet handled. Just my 2¢.

producer@glasgay.com said...

i think Cora's exit and Sam's interpretation of that left us all with many questions. Good questions as to what had occured, memory, reality, death, rebirth, a whole cycle endlessly repeating. Both versions, script and and performed are vaild, as are all of our own interpretations. For me the most contemporary relevance was Fritzl and Amstetten sans folder over the face. And that's where all good critics should leave it .... in the dark, dank, retreats of your memory cells - bravo it was a wonderful show.