Half life by Julian Mitchell
This somewhat comical play has a serious undertone: that of a search for meaning and purpose in a life that is drawing to a close. Our academic protagonist realises, after his life’s work is proved false, that he does not know who he is. Inviting significant people from his life’s story to a party at his grand house at the equinox, Sir Noel Cunliffe tries to regain the life that seemed secondary to his work in order to discover himself: not the Oxford don, nor the academic, but the man. Though at first reluctant and anxious, Cunliffe’s guests inevitably provide an illuminating narrative, but one that he would perhaps rather not know. Interestingly, whether by Cunliffe’s design (a somewhat sadist and perhaps punishing inclination) or by default, the characters that help to tell the story of the man are not all enamoured with the character: each seems to have their own cross to bear. An enjoyable read, if only for the numerous arguments!
Three birds alighting on a field by Timberlake Wertenberger
I was hoping for something similar to what I have heard about Art, which I understand to be about the way in which people relate to each other, and how art (especially the purchase of) can change that. Unfortunately, Three birds alighting on a field focuses on the world of art commerce, something that I am not really interested in. The first character we are introduced to (through a monologue) is Biddy, wife of a wealthy Greek who desires to ‘be more English’, though the main character is purportedly Richard, the artist that has fallen back into favour with a gallery that dropped him years before. Highlighting the fickle nature of commerce (there is an ridiculous scene in which a couple try to ‘return’ a painting they bought from a gallery some years before to get their money back, simply because the buyer’s new wife does not like the painting), Three birds alighting on a field also suggests the compromising position this puts the artist in, though we have no sympaty for the ascerbic character. Fortunately, through the course of the play, Richard’s attitude towards Biddy (now a collector) softens, indicating that maybe, just maybe, there is more to collecting art than trying to impress other people.
Death of a salesman by Arthur Miller
It’s the first complete play I’ve read in many years. I was impressed with the detailed description of the stage at the beginning of Act One – it shows that Miller knew exactly what visual props he wanted to help him tell his story. The detail of the stage set description contrasts sharply with the ambiguity of the dialogue: more often than not, two dialogues are running concurrently as Willy Lomas repeatedly flashes back to the past in reflection on the present. Throughout the text, this duality lends a frenzied feel to the action – ones eyes flick back and forth to separate and understand the different conversations.
Ultimately, Willy’s consistent delusions provoke pity, despite the obvious damage it has caused to his family. The inevitable question centres on the balance between truth and fiction, between reality and fantasy, and on the ability to imagine – a central part of being human.