I Dreamt Tom Stoppard’s Email Address @ The Cube
February 24, 2011
In 1998 Tracey Emin presented her work, My Bed, a ‘does what it says on the tin’ style art installation that represented the suicidal depression brought about by relationship difficulties. Edwina Casey tries for a similar result with I Dreamt Tom Stoppard’s Email Address, Lydia Pryor’s eulogy to her recently deceased father, the actor Roger Pryor. Following Lydia as she repeats her morning routine over and over it is an immersive, often infuriating work, that is beautiful but often banal, as simple as it is scrupulous, which can be utterly engaging yet exultingly erudite, an effective, defective work that is ultimately affecting.
It’s use of repetitive action, multimedia and soundscape take us into the mind and memory of Pryor as she patters about her father’s house, cleaning out his closet, sorting out her own cerebral mess and repeating his routine as the memories come flooding back. The last play and film they saw together (both by Tom Stoppard); his favorite Shakespeare play (Twelfth Night); his contentious favorite Shakespearean quote. It’s all based on a blog Lydia kept during this time called the Dead Dad Diaries, which charted her mourning, messiness and moving on.
Not much happens and what does is repeated, over and over. She makes her bed. She makes breakfast. She sorts through books. She plays with dolls. It’s all done in real-time, with not a peep from Pryor until the end. The more the actions are repeated the more insight we are given, first through footage of her father, then through an imaginary slot on Dessert Island Discs which work as one to explain what’s going through her mind as she repeats these actions. Finally, she speaks, initially in a touching voice over and eventually in person, adding color to the chalk marked outline of her grief.
It is a remarkably brave piece by both director and performer. It never blinks, never compensates by groaning into hysteria or humor and never gives in to the expectant demands of an audience who want laughter or tears or a combination of both.
It is, however, too phlegmatic. A critic observing Penelope Wilton in Brian Friel’s Afterplay observed that he could watch her licking stamps for hours. Inactivity can make for the most immediate theatre. But this is Pryor’s first time in front of an audience and she quite simply doesn’t have the chops to pull off this kind of work. She shouldn’t feel to badly, few actors, at any stage of their career, do. But in a piece that relies so heavily on the renewal of everyday activity her limitations (not insurmountable) can make the piece seem distressingly dull. The mechanics of melancholy should not be expressed as mechanical acting and the audience shouldn’t be so heedlessly dismissed. There is a definite lack of engagement in what’s done on stage and it shouldn’t simply be compensated for by the charming personalities shown on-screen or tape.
There are technical faults too. When Pryor goes upstage to sort through her fathers books a lot of what she does is blocked from the audience’s view while much of what was said between Pryor and Grace Dyas, the Desert Island Disc’s host, is lost beneath the clattering of cutlery and the kettles expulsions.
It is very much a work in progress, but it is a work that should be progressed. Pryor has a certain lure and with a little work her stiffness on stage could be rounded out to make the whole thing more thought-provoking and intimate. As it is it is a heartfelt and very human piece of theatre, with much to admire, much to admonish and which is bound to induce much debate and discussion.