Thursday, 27 April 2017

Theatre with the Girl

Some days, raising a teenager tests one's patience; some days you feel as though your child has been replaced by a stranger you don't like, and when they have a bad day, so do you.

And then there are days like yesterday; I picked her up from school and she ran into my arms and hugged me outside the gate. We talked and laughed all the way home, changed into dress clothes, and drove to Dublin to take in dinner and a show -- specifically, Julius Caesar.

I had shown her light comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It when she was little, somewhat edgier comedies like Measure for Measure last year, and now that she is a moody adolescent she has a taste for grimmer fare. The same thing has happened to our movie nights – we used to watch things like Hans Christian Andersen or Bringing Up Baby, and now she requests films like Strangers on a Train, Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep.

It also gives me an excuse to take her to Shakespeare’s tragedies. I appeared as a guest on the C-Realm radio show last week, and at some point in the conversation I mentioned that almost all theatre-watching peoples except us thrived on tragedy. Greeks, Romans, Elizabethans – all found great meaning in tragedy, and only our strange culture demands a happy ending on everything. She gets plenty of teenage pop culture from her friends, and I largely let her enjoy it – but when she’s out with me, I wanted to invite her to the Great Stories and hope she likes them. I took her to Hamlet earlier this year, and she loved it, so when this play came around, I asked her if she would see it with me.

It was a brilliant production, with great performances all around. She knew much of the story already from our evening lessons -- the background of Tarquin and the original Brutus, several hundred years earlier, and how Rome became a Republic, so it made this story of its ending particularly poignant.

Afterwards I said, "Now you know where she got all the names for the Hunger Games."

"I recognised them!" she said – “Cato, Cinna, Portia, Plutarch and all the others.” She read and loved the series last year, and after reading them myself, I noticed how heavily the author laid on the Imperial Roman analogies, down to the country itself – Panem, as in Panem et Circusi. She wasn’t subtle about it, but I doubt most of the target audience had ever heard of any of these names.

"And when Brutus said ‘The fault is not in our stars’,” I began…

"The Fault in Our Stars!" she said, which she read not long ago.

Seeing a Shakespeare play is full of light-bulb moments like that -- all kinds of other pop-culture references gain new meaning.

“I absolutely love the speech Mark Antony gives the crowd,” I told her. “With no warning he found his best friend was killed, that his other friends are the killers, and he has to talk to an angry crowd that doesn’t want to listen. But at the drop of a hat he comes up with a cunning speech, one that seems to attack Caesar while actually reminding the crowd how awesome he was, and seemed to defend the conspirators while turning the crowd against them. That was smooth.”

“I hate Octavius!” she said. “Mark Antony respected his opponent, but Octavius just sneered over their bodies. He was like the King Joffrey of Rome.” I don’t let her watch Game of Thrones, but she knows I read the books, and certain characters have entered into pop-culture lexicon. She didn't like Octavius anyway -- we had talked about how he murdered anyone who stood in his way, including people like Cicero who had defended him and meant him no harm - and this play only reinforced that feeling.

I know, I said – and of course the last lines hint at the sequel, in which he and Antony will face off against each other.

"You want to see Antony and Cleopatra next?" I said.

"Sure!" she said. "Can I see Titus Andronicus?"

Um .... not yet, I said.

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