Learning the Ropes

Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known entertainment universe.

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In these “interesting times” where we live, now and then I get an intuitive confirmation of the impressive prescience of certain twentieth century novelists; my latest was olfactory. Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World – he sure was right about genetic engineering – but do you remember the scene in the book where there is a public protest? The authorities rock up and instead of laying about the populus with strong arms as in cruder locales, they merely pump “soma”, the happy gas, into the vicinity. And while they are doing it they play a soothing voice-over.

“Friends… friends… friends” croons the voice in a tone at once loving and mildly, fraternally, disappointed by the disharmony. The public is soon quieted. Today in real-world Manhattan the streets of midtown are filled with the sickly-sweet skunk-imitator scent of cannabis leaves burning quietly, and undoubtedly to some of us it brings a welcome oblivion.

Orwell was another one. He had it right too, the Big Brothers who presently rule territories East and West are watching you, and some are more equal than others, while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all (when a society seeks the Good above the True – it’s over) and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.

By the way, George Orwell wrote an at-close-quarters account of a hanging that happened in Burma (Myanmar) when he was a civil servant there. He was struck by how the condemned man side-stepped a puddle on the way to the gallows.

Along the side streets of midtown there are theatres. They cling to Broadway like barnacles on a submarine cable and claim its name. From them you may purchase entertainment.

Is there a difference between entertainment and art?

“Our job,” says a senior advertising executive to a colleague in the 1980s TV dramady Thirtysomething, “is to give people faith in their leaders, comfort in the purchase of consumer durables and security in the belief that there is absolutely nothing wrong.”

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Last week I joined the company of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh. I stand by for Mark Addy, an actor of extraordinary calibre and absolutely outstanding in the role of Harry. The show previews Feb 28th, opens March 19th.

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And if you do see it, will it give you any somatic relief from the chafing-on-the-nerves challenge of being alive in these “interesting times”?

I doubt it.

The author, Martin McDonagh, is on record as saying he had no intention for a play-of-message as he wrote it. Even so, the show is confronting. It’s very funny. State-sanctioned murderous use of hempen weave – what could be funnier? But if you laugh, soon after you are likely to think “What kind of person laughs at this?!?

I’ll call that art.

22 thoughts on “Learning the Ropes

  1. Gladden Schrock

    Special thumbs up this go-round, Colin. Waxing oooomph-ful, you be. (& please xo to your Lady Trish….one of th’ abiding loves of my life). Best, gs.

    Reply
  2. Terence Clarke

    Thought-provoking and beautifully written – as ever.

    I still impatiently await word from you and/or Trish about the two Australian plays I sent: *A Hard God* and *A Happy and Holy Occasion. *It is over six months since they were sent, along with the li Regis of two musicals by Nick Enright and me. I’m pretty sure you told me they had arrived. If I’m mistaken in that, please let me know ASAP.

    *Both have excellent rôles for you; the latter, in the rôle of Miss Siss, is made for Trish*.

    (I’d love to direct you both in them, but that’s unlikely to happen!)

    My teaching of the technical theatre classes at NIDA continues. But I’ve been delighted, after a hiatus of some ten years, to do some work with actors who have chosen the ‘classical theatre’ elective.

    And I’m delighted that you are in the *Hangmen* company. I’ve read reviews of the London production. Would I were in NY atm: that; the Laura Lunney Elizabeth Strout piece (LL and ES each, in their different fields, among my favourites). And *The Inheritance, *all four or five hours of it. *A Soldier’s Play; Darling Grenadine; Anatomy of a Ssuicide; *even *West Side Story, *despite Ivo von Hove (I’ve seen three of his productions and cordially loathedthem). It would be hard to ruin such a great work. I saw the gender-switch *Company* in London: yuk.awful. Simply does not work.

    Love, to you both, Terry

    On Tue, 25 Feb 2020 at 1:14 pm, McPhillamyActorBlog wrote:

    > Colin McPhillamy posted: “Broadway in New York City snakes through midtown > like an uncoiled length tossed casually across a grid. It creates wedges: > one at the Flatiron building on 23rd Street, and another at Times Square at > 42nd Street the one-time-and-forever centre of the known” >

    Reply
  3. Barbara McCulloh

    Congratulations, Colin! I’m still sorry I missed the Irish Rep; busy time just got away from me. I saw Trish crossing 57th street yesterday, but couldn’t catchup with her in time. She looked good though. My love to both of you. Hope to see you around the edges soon! xoxo Barbara

    >

    Reply
  4. bdirickson

    This was wonderful Colin! What terrible , scary , sad, and disappointing times we are living. My heart is broken for my beloved country. We are fighting a very high fever… and I keep waiting for the fever to break😪 Best of luck with your show.they are lucky to have you! All best and love to you and Trish Barbara❤️

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
  5. Lesley Staples

    Many thanks, Colin. And you certainly have a way with words! 😉

    Break legs in your new show – I do hope you get to go on!

    Lesley x

    Sent from my iPhone

    >>

    Reply
  6. harry

    I hope you get on, you’d be terrific. I saw it in London and NYC, it was better there, mostly because of Mark and the intimacy of the theatre. I hope it can retain some of that menacing proximity so the audience feels exactly what you outline. x

    Reply
  7. Theda

    ” while the telescreen is the Colosseum, and the public mind marches toward total biddability as Fact, Ethics and Truth are lost in the oubliette of Opinion and the soothing-stimulating somatic-discourse that calls itself “News”. Plato was right after all and it’s only taken a couple of thousand years to prove it.”
    I get so high reading your words. Your smart is soma to me. Love you friend and bravo on your takeover there!

    Reply

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