Sunday 21 November 2010
Good company down the A&E
Well, I'm not sure Hans Fallada, born Rudolf Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen, makes exactly congenial reading when you're waiting for three hours to be seen in the mayhem of an accident and emergency department, but anything is bearable so long as there's humanity at the heart of it. Of which more anon. I should explain that it was the long-term accident rather than another immediate emergency which caused a concerned doctor to send me to Charing Cross Hospital nine days after the all-too-perfunctory inspection at St Thomas's. Last week's bash was still giving me gyp, and she discovered a dent above the eye which in my squeamishness I hadn't felt.
X-rays and further checking finally revealed, after three and a half hours' hanging around, that I have a left supraorbital fracture which, horror, may mean maxillary surgery. But in the meantime they're more concerned about the orb itself, so off I go first thing tomorrow to the Western Eye Hospital. The CX experience could have been a lot worse, despite a fair bit of wailing and crying from a failed suicide behind drawn curtains. Chief entertainment was an old parlare-ist called Reg, who'd been there all day for brain scans and tests, and his merry men. I just assumed they were a bunch of old London pals, which they were - but with a bit of a difference.
The giveaway was when Reg gently broke into a rendition of 'I am what I am', and of course the parlare which cropped up when one of his chums spoke of his old mum's ailments. 'You need to keep up your fluid intake', quoth another a little bit later, to which came the quip 'as the Bishop of London said to the actress'. There was a bit of bickering between them, which prompted me to tell Reg how fortunate he was to have such loyal companions. He agreed, felt my dent and invited me to drop in some time on a kind of friends-only casbah off the Battersea Bridge Road. Which I am, of course, very curious to visit if I can, and if indeed it exists as Reg, for all his eloquence, wasn't quite all there.
In the meanwhile, jammed between two slumped young men, I moved deeper into the horrifying world of Fallada's Alone in Berlin, German title: Jeder stirbt fur sich allein (another curious admission, by the way, had to sit cross-legged on the floor, where he was soon engrossed in Gautier's My Fantoms [sic]).
Simply as a document from someone who lived through the terrors in question, as of course did Irene Nemirovsky in the unfinished Suite Francaise, Alone in Berlin would be remarkable: the insights into the police-state Berlin of the early 1940s are unflinching, the Third Reich 'vile beyond vile', as the author incontrovertibly states. But Fallada is both blackly comic about the twisted logic of the regime and shatteringly moving about the handful of folk who insist on keeping their integrity no matter how useless their active demonstration of it might prove. The counterpoint of characters is worthy of Tolstoy, even if I'm not always sure about the felicity of Michael Hofmann's translation. My own preference would have been for the splendid Anthea Bell, but still we must be grateful to Hofmann for bringing a masterpiece to the attention of the English-speaking world.
There's an extraordinary chapter in which the imprisoned protagonist shares a cell with a psychopath who pretends to be a dog so that he can be registered as insane. Intriguing parallels here with the wonderful Bulgakov novella turned into the opera I saw last night, A Dog's Heart. I thought the staging was ENO at its idiosyncratic best - read all about it on The Arts Desk. Meanwhile, here are some shots from the Apple Store pre-performance event in which I had the pleasure of partipating. What a weird idea, to set it in the middle of a vast open shop with crowds milling and buzzing all around. I couldn't hear a lot of the earlier slots backstage, as it were, until I went and stood by a loudspeaker. There were star turns from the dog's chief puppeteer, Mark Down of the Blind Summit Theatre company, seen here demonstrating bag-of-bones Sharik to the magisterial Christopher Cook:
and from the young countertenor covering Sharik's 'pleasant voice', Iestyn Morris, who, accompanied by Murray Hipkin, made the dog's dream-monologue sound like something by Cavalli. His teacher Andrew Watts did a clarion job, too, in the show proper. We'll be hearing a lot more from this second Iestyn (can you believe there's another to follow in the footsteps of the estimable Mr. Davies?) Here he is on the left, standing by the dog-table with Tim Armstrong-Tayor, the actor who so wittily told the story from plastic surgeon Professor Preobrazhensky's perspective.
And last but of course not least, the brothers Simon and Gerard McBurney with our mainstay.
Complicite's main man had to dash off, so he did his bit with Christopher first; and then at the end I joined Gerard to talk Dog's Heart. Inevitably I was a bit in awe since he'd been, as he put it, a 'fellow musketeer' of composer Raskatov in Moscow and had a much closer bee-line to the work in progress than I did. But I'm glad to have had my preliminary hunches confirmed by such an inspiration-packed work.