Yes, it’s the 3rd of September, and the Christmas ads are already poking out of the woodwork. It’s that rather mournful time of year, when everything at work and at school goes back to being busy and overwhelmed with tedious chores that need doing, but we don’t yet have the benefits of sticking the heating on and hiding from the world. The potential of summer hangs in the air, the memory of all that excitement and anticipation about how much you would do and see on holiday. How it would be a great time to reconnect with your kids, the days would be long and languid; there will be no dishwashers to empty, no clothes to wash, work but a distant haze on the horizon.
Of course what really happened was a perfectly pleasant but very short sojourn in various overcrowded beach resorts somewhere in the UK. Last year, we went to Cornwall. This year, we went to Cornwall again. Once again, we went to the Minack theatre, this time to see The Tempest, which should have been magical, as it is a stone amphitheatre hewn into the side of a cliff overlooking a vast sweep of the Atlantic. It was built as an amateur theatre with the express purpose of providing a dramatic backdrop for performances of The Tempest. Unfortunately, Prospero spoke so quickly and indistinctly into the wind that I thought he was trying to make last orders in the pub. I am a Shakespeare Luddite, but even I was sitting in pleasurable anticipation of his last line:
We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleepAct 4, Scene 1
When it came, the words seemed to gasp across the sea, away from the audience. If he were Ralph Fiennes, perhaps he could have projected this enough to make it impressive, but he was not. I am probably forever spoilt by seeing Fiennes in 2011, as indeed I am for all Othellos after seeing Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear at the National in 2013. I should probably not be so mean as to compare amateurs who are devoting their free time to some artistic endeavour with world famous professional actors, any more than I can compare myself to a paid writer. Both categories may be doing the same thing, but with a rather different level of talent and experience.
I do tend to become reasonably obsessed with some things for a short space of time, and now it is the Minack Theatre. It is so wondrous to me, full of such promise, that I’m not sure any production could equal the potential it conveys.
As a child, my life was nothing but a parade of opera, ballet and art galleries, and travelling across the world, for no particularly obvious reason other than my father’s desire to somehow lead an unusual life away from his parents’ hideously conservative, somewhat poor flat in Aachen, the city in Germany probably closest to its Western border. They moved from Cottbus, its most easterly city, after the war. Perhaps they wanted to put as much distance as they could between their wartime experiences. My father was disappointed by life, by his own choices, by the venality of most people. His escape was to music, and to a lesser extent ballet. He was also somewhat tyrannical about his children having enough knowledge of all his favourite pieces. We would have to instantly know any piece of classical music that was played on the radio from the first few bars, and if we did not, all manner of opprobrium would be heaped upon us. And yet it was inspiring to see his enthusiasm, talking about Alcina or Fidelio, seeing him laugh and dance about.
They was always so full of potential, his artistic leanings, and I feel quite similar when I see the Minack, the potential of an intellectual epiphany unfolding before me. It is an experience I loved and was thrilled by, and yet I enjoyed merely sitting in my stone seat, looking out at the sea, more than the performance. It was the venue that was the art, and I’m not sure many actors are its equal. That epiphany was much like the vision of an artistic life which my father presented; tantalisingly close, but ever so slightly out of reach. Summer will turn to Autumn and to the reassurance of Winter; many plans of change and hope will be made, but every evening, all I will do is park my backside on an item of soft furnishing, consuming what somebody else wrote, and what somebody else played.
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