Sunday, 4 October 2009

The things I do for David Tennant

Some things may have already been established, if you are one of the half dozen people who regularly read this blog. (Hello. I'm always so glad to see you...): 1. I have issues with things involving numbers and technology. 2. I am squeamish. 3. I like David Tennant. This weekend has brought these three items together in surprising and disturbing ways.

On Friday evening, while blog-browsing, I became aware that the 2001 BBC Radio Four production of Much Ado About Nothing (featuring DT as Benedick, "the married man") is available at for something like £75. Now, as much as I like David Tennant, that's a bit rich for my blood, but legal audio downloads of the same are available in the $20 price range. So, I, the legal audio download virgin, embarked on a frustrating evening of typing, clicking, pasting, what-have-you. The site I'd chosen fervently assured me of how easy the whole process was, but my computer failed to access their helpful how-to video, and their so-call contact site refused to recognize my password. After several attempts, I managed to download both halves of the play, verify my licensed right to view and burn the same (this required obtaining permission, ooooh, about five times), then after several bouts of filthy language and attempting no less than three media players, actually was able to listen to the thing. After a suitable calm-down period, I will be enlisting the resident seventeen-year-old's aid in burning it to a CD. Or two. This I will do for David Tennant. (As an aside, younger daughter heard a portion of the play during breakfast and vanished upstairs to get her anime version. She wanted to know where the kiss was.)

David Tennant was also instrumental in our procuring tickets for Vision Theatre's production of The Pillowman at the Arts Court Theatre in downtown Ottawa last night. I knew from what I'd learned about the play that it wouldn't be my cup of tea, but David Tennant had waxed lyrically about the script when he appeared in the world premiere at the National Theatre in London alongside Jim Broadbent. Elder daughter declined, after reading the review in The Ottawa Citizen, so the Resident Fan Boy accompanied me. A blind-folded man in a prison jumpsuit and sock feet sat at a table on the stage as we took seats in the very front row. He sat there silently until the stage lights abruptly came on and the play began.

Oh. Dear. Let me say right now, the writing in this play is very very good as were the performances of the actors: David Whitely and Bradley Cunningham Long as the sadistic but horrendously funny good cop/bad cop interrogators (Whitely was playing Ariel, the role played by Jim Broadbent in London and Jeff Goldblum on Broadway); Geoff McBride as Michal the damaged brother who is innocently guilty and wisely simple; and best of all, Kris Joseph as the bewildered, tortured, enraged, and passionate Katurian.

If you're ever planning to see this play, the following may spoil it for you. Or not.

After an hour and a half of listening to Katurian's disturbing short stories of the torture and murder of children (illustrated at first with sort of animated chalk drawings, then silhouettes of deranged puppets), Katurian's brother lay lifeless, staring upwards on a mattress in a prison cell, as the audience departed for intermission. The Resident Fan Boy and I sat frozen in our seats, contemplating another hour of prison torture and the promised revelation of the gruesome details of another Katurian short story involving a mute little girl: The Little Jesus.

"I don't think I can face it..." I finally stammered to the Resident Fan Boy.

And so we left. Not because it was a bad play. It isn't. Not due to any lacking in the performances. There wasn't. As a matter of fact, the long agonizing revelation of the true horrors of the plot as Katurian and his brother await further torture and execution is an amazing tour-de-force for the two actors, Kris Joseph and Geoff McBride, who come off as a kind of twisted version of The Smothers Brothers (which, considering the end of the scene, is perhaps a little too appropriate). Katurian, listening in growing shock to what his stories have led the childlike (and oddly logical) Michal to commit, swings from brotherly patience to enraged exasperation to tearful protective love.

The simple fact is that I couldn't take any more. The violence is relatively bloodless, much less than other productions from what I can make out from photos online, but that makes it all the more horrible. Anyone making this into a movie would probably show everything in graphic and gory splendour, but this production (even the bit with the severed toes) restrained itself and let the narrative do its blood-chilling work.

As we made our way to the elevator, the woman from the box office hastily checked that we weren't leaving because we thought the play was over, which has apparently happened several times due to the length.

"No," I assured her. "The writing is great; the acting is great. I just can't bear anymore." She thanked us for coming.

On the bus home, I mulled over my decision, thinking of a psychologist friend who left American Beauty in a fit of disgust, thus missing the strangely redemptive ending. Looking at a synopsis of The Pillowman, I somehow doubt we were missing redemption, just more death and despair, with a couple of plot twists. Besides, I wasn't leaving in disgust. I can't say the same for the Resident Fan Boy who was appalled at the laughter during the interrogation scene. I told him that it was supposed to be funny, in the blackest possible way, but he was sure that the audience took too much delight in it, and that this is another symptom of society's growing callousness to suffering.

Maybe so. I was chagrined last year when elder daughter saw Roman Polanski's Macbeth and failed to fathom what had scarred me for life when seeing it when I was her age. (The Resident Fan Boy and I were discussing Roman Polanski and his arrest for the drugging, raping, and sodomizing of a thirteen-year-old girl three decades ago while waiting for The Pillowman to begin, another queasy quasi-relevance.) She also viewed The Exorcist for a school project with no qualms. Clearly, exposure to graphic violence has toughened up audiences over the years.

But not me. I'm not sorry I went. I wonder, however, if I would have found the stomach to continue had David Tennant been in the lead role. Part of me hopes not.


Ann oDyne said...

oh yes you would have ... and I would have too. Clearly it is
'an actor's-actor play'

Re RomPol and all the fuss:
I am appalled by the hypocritic baying for blood by the very masses who loved TaxiDriver where Jodie Foster plays a 12-y-o hooker, but did nothing to stop this happening in actual life.
Anyone commenting on the fact that Mr Polanski fled from the prospect of 50 years in jail, must ask if they would have done the same.
They must also read the girls testimony at the Grand Jury where he admitted guilt. She was not a virgin to sex or to the drug she took with him. He phoned her mother from that house, and handed the phone to the girl. She did not say "Come and get me Mom".
Now returning to contemplation of visual appeal of DT.

ptooie said...

Congrats on finding a way to not spend 75pounds!
And as intriguing as The Pillowman sounds, it does NOT sound like something I'd enjoy at this point in my life. (6 yrs ago maybe, but not now.)

Persephone said...

Well, AnnOD, I wasn't there.

I think the complicating factor in the whole Roman Polanski business is fame. He's famous. She wasn't. If it had been the other way around, I don't think we'd be having this discussion.

I think, however, that even non-virginal drug-users have a right to say "no". (It is my understanding she said "no", but as I say, I wasn't there.) So number one, whether she had sex before or drugs before is not relevant. Even prostitutes can be raped, and they shouldn't be.

Number two, she was thirteen. Thirteen-year-olds, no matter how precocious, or damaged, or used, are too young to have sex, with or without their mothers' tacit approval. Failing to say, "Mum, come get me" does not make them fair game. They are children. RP was way old enough to know better.

So, irrelevant information: her past sex-life, her past drug-use, whether or not she said no. Further irrelevant information: how talented or legendary Roman Polanski is, his family's dying in concentration camps, his wife's being murdered by Manson's minions, the compensation paid to the girl, or her request not to prosecute the case now.

None of this excuses what Polanski did. The real question is whether a 50-year prison term is the correct, fair, or helpful response, something else that I think hinges on the fame issue.

I'm afraid I'm not sure how enjoying Taxi Driver (which I don't, but that's me) makes one a hypocrite. Was Jodie Foster actually drugged and raped during filming?

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Hear, hear Persephone on your thoughts about Roman P - especially all the relevant/irrelevant information.

I'm not sure I would have coped with The Pilowman, with or without DT, though I suspect that the presence would have torn me in holding out till the end.

I'm sure that Much Ado wasn't that expensive, but then again, you do have to acquire it from outside the UK. Since I refuse to even dare to try *cough* means for accessing stuff on the interweb when legal purchasing/screening does not permit me, I often have to forego certain pleasures.

This Xmas I will again be in NZ: nice, I know but it means I miss the sweep of excitement/tears when the Tenth Doctor moves on... *sob*

Persephone said...

I need to reiterate that The Pillowman is a remarkable play. Even though I failed to stay to the end, I will not forget it any time soon. If the performances of these actors in Ottawa were riveting, one can only imagine the intensity of the production with the likes of David Tennant and Jim Broadbent. I might have stayed, but I would have been scarred for life.

The BBC Radio Four Much Ado About Nothing is fabulous, but £75 was indeed the asking price at, which does not have different prices for oversea shoppers (although it will occasionally refuse to ship items so I have to prevail upon my British relatives to purchase them and mail them to me). I didn't see it offered anywhere else, just the legal audio download sites such as and

bonnie-ann black said...

mcdonagh's plays are not for the faint of heart! i was in galway, ireland, when his world premier of The Beauty Queen of Lenane was put on by the Druid with a remarkable cast. i belonged to a theatre company at the time, had just taken an original play all around ireland, and was joined by several other members of the experience theatrical company at the evening performance.

well, some things *are* cultural i guess, because the laughter that the audience gave to that play just stunned us US citizens. i found the whole thing (except for one very touching scene) to be a bit "squik-making" and very difficult to watch in parts. well-written, beautifully acted, and just disturbing.

i love DT (as you know) and love jeff goldblum and would have loved to see the play with DT (who was denied a working visa to bring the play to broadway). but, it's tough to say if i could have *enjoyed* it...

on the other hand, walking out of a play also takes an act of courage. i've only done it once or twice -- but usually because the play itself was *bad*.

Persephone said...

I've heard the title Beauty Queen of Lenane, but don't know a thing about the plot. I'll have to look that one up. I adore Jeff Goldblum. He had a TV series on recently that, alas, was canceled, as I think Eastwick with Paul Gross is on the verge of being. (It's okay, but Paul is, as usual, the best thing about it.) I was thinking about you this week as Men With Brooms was on TV, written by, directed by, and starring Paul Gross. Have you seen it? It may be a bit Canadian for you...