8 April 2010 at 12.15pm | Comment on this article
We had a design meeting on Monday – Soutra Gilmore the designer, James MacDonald the director, Caryl Churchill the librettist, and me.
Most of the discussion revolved around one crucial moment in the opera: the woman wishes for nothing, the genie says ok I can do that, and everything disappears. The questions were, what exactly disappears and how does it disappear?
The woman is in her flat, so what disappears is probably some simple furniture and a few household objects. How naturalistic? Very naturalistic, we think, so it’s more shocking when it disappears. So no video. Where is this stuff? Is it in a naturalistic room, or is it in a more abstract space? Not sure yet, don’t want to get too bogged down in naturalistic detail (what’s the wallpaper like? where’s the window? what’s outside the window? etc etc), but we’ll need to decide soon.
How does the stuff disappear? Making stuff disappear on stage is tricky and potentially expensive. Soutra says, maybe we need a magician. Which reminds me of a very interesting section of a book I read recently, Mirrors by the Uraguayian writer Eduardo Galeano. It’s about the Taj Mahal.
‘They say it was built by twenty thousand workers over twenty years, made of white marble, red sand, jade, and turquoise carried from afar by a thousand elephants.
They say. Who knows? Perhaps that weightless beauty, floating whiteness, was made of air.
At the end of the year 2000, before an awestruck multitude, India’s most famous magician made it disappear for two minutes.
P.C. Sorcar Jr. said it was the art of his magic:
‘I made it vanish,’ he said.
Did he make it vanish, or did he return it to the air?’
The obvious thought is: let’s call up P.C. Sorcar Jr. and see what he can do for us.
In 1997 Caryl and I made a piece in collaboration with Ian Spink of the sadly defunct dance theatre company Second Stride. It was called Hotel. The first half was about seven couples and two single people – a couple having an affair, a gay couple, an old couple of French tourists, a drunk couple, a bird-watching woman….. arriving in a hotel one night. They go to their rooms and do the things that people do in hotels. In the morning they get up, have breakfast, and leave. On stage they are all in one room, with one bed, one basin, one mirror, one TV. So the performers are obliged to find their way round this room without colliding, sleep in the same bed, watch the same TV. They sing together (even though they never meet) – the affair couple sings a love quartet with the gay couple, the bird-watching woman and the old French woman, who get up before everyone else, sing a duet, everyone sings about what’s for breakfast; and so on. A simple and beautiful idea, and fun.
The other half was much weirder, much darker. It was about trying to make yourself disappear, in a hotel room. Caryl created the lyrics by ruthlessly editing down bizarre material she found on the internet (the first time I’d come across this technique). One of the songs was:
City out of sight in the haze
Magician made the tower disappear from the ground up
And all the people who lived
Wish I could disappear’
Another was a disappearing spell:
‘Lailam lailam zizia zizia lailam io io io’
I won’t say how we’re going to achieve our disappearing act. We’re not going to employ P.C. Sorcar Jr., or use a spell, though……..
Then James pointed out that the disappearing act is just one moment in the opera, and we need to think about the staging of the rest of it. Dead right.