Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ex Libris: Bleak House

An actual quote from a real book retrieved from a dusty corner of the Bleak Librarium:

(My mother) was hardly less subdued within the confines of a conventional theatre. At the tiny Salisbury Playhouse Mum had only a Bechstein Grand for competition. That was when I was appearing in a barefoot ballet called Born of Desire. As Southampton was just down the road, Mum came to all seven performances, including the Saturday matinee to which she invited her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Mann. As usual, Mum had chosen the front row, close to the piano, and under my nose. When the curtain went up I could see that Mrs. Mann, who had poor eyesight, was having trouble reading the programme note, which was almost as long as the ballet itself -- a four-minute piece of angst choreographed to Grieg's The Last Spring. So Mum read it for her -- aloud...(T)he audience, sparse as usual...could be forgiven for thinking it was an integral part of the perforformance -- which Mum knew by heart...

"'Man born of woman 'as but a short time to live,'" she began. "'Two simple peasants toil from dawn to dusk in the fields.' (Aside.) You can tell they're peasants. They can't afford shoes."

"They can't afford tools by the look of it, either," said Mrs. Mann. "They're doing everything with their hands."

"That's called 'mime.'" said Mum. "You can tell what they're doing by watching their gestures. They're playing rounders now." (Actually we were scything corn.) "'Around them all is ripening. Nature's bosom swells,'" Mum rhapsodised. "'The woman's breasts yearn to suckle the child she is fated to bear.'"

"A child wouldn't get much nourishment from her!" said Mrs. Mann, eyeing my partner's flat chest.

"'The man wonders why 'is seed will not take root,'" Mum continued, ignoring the interruption. "' Why'er womb will not bear fruit? Their barren loins ache to bring forth the child denied them.'"

As they watched, we alternately rubbed our loins and raised our arms to heaven.

"No one ever got pregnant doing that," said Mrs. Mann...

Mum never took Mrs. Mann to one of my performances ever again. Usually, she took a bemused relative, occasionally Dad...Unfortunately, he'd missed my debut in Annie Get Your Gun at the Sheffield Palace but of course Mum had been there from the moment the doors opened, sitting bang in the middle of the front row. I remember her excitement when, having penetrated my warpaint, she turned to the stranger sitting beside her, masturbating beneath a newpaper, and hissed in a stage whisper, "That's our Ken you've got your eye on." I even heard that above the pit band playing "I'm an Indian, too."

-Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell (1991.) (Bleak's capsule review: Well worth the $2.99 I paid for it. Surprisingly, he is not insane. The only book in the world that has blurbs from Liza Minelli, Twiggy, and Glenda Jackson.)