In this week's column Nell is stamping her feet, pulling on her stopwatch, rubbing the life back in to her numb bum and explaining why nothing should ever last longer than ninety minutes...
Here are the things are fun for three hours: a meal, a nap, a novel, a train journey (on your own), a walk in the countryside, a party. Here are the things that start to chafe after three hours: a play, a film, a gig, a meeting, an album, foreplay.
That’s right. I said it. A three-hour play is too long. Far too long. It’s so long that you start to forget the faces of your family and friends. It’s so long that you consider eating bus tickets and drinking liquid foundation just to stave off your hunger. It’s so long that you pray for a wedgie, simply as a distraction from your otherwise numb buttocks. It is 100% too long.
At last week’s NSDF I was treated to one such three-hour epic. Now, I don’t want to name any names here, so let’s just say that the play in question was about a guy called Wolfgang and featured a fair bit of harpsichord.
Oh sure, there was an interval. A 10-minute interval, during which there was just enough time to slap some life in to my weight-deadened bum cheeks, forage around the bottom of my bag for a nourishing sheet of paper and click my hips back in to their sockets, before climbing back into my seat for the second act.
Now as I type this I can practically hear the words “Arthur Miller”, “Hamlet”, “The English Patient”, “Ecstasy”, “R Kelly’s operatic masterpiece Trapped in the Closet” and “Peter Brook’s nine-hour version of the Mahabharata” floating towards me across a sea of chewed fingernails, shuffling feet and yawns. To which I offer up my own marathon shrug and say, “Nah”.
Although I am too young to have experienced Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, I did watch a 12-hour budget video version of India’s battle epic, during one of my mother’s more religious periods, and I can say with utmost sincerity that I was bored to tears. Actual, physical, salty teats. Experiencing that kind of thing live is no better. In fact, it’s worse.
As I sit or stand before a stage, the clock rolling across the two-hour mark, with an interval still just a speck on the horizon, I am overwhelmed by a sort of burning dread. Moving smoothly from restlessness to hysteria to total fatalistic despair, I stare into the oncoming hours much like a rabbit into a steamroller. Whether I’m watching Wagner, Shaffer, music or theatre, by the 90-minute mark I’m just about ready to pack up my troubles and head on home.
And yet, like a white-suited RE teacher at a Slipknot gig, I realise that I am not in the majority here. The theatre critic Alexis Soloski recently wrote, “I love the ways in which multi-hour plays often prove so immersive” (immersive like a pool full of wet concrete, if you ask me). Meanwhile the play that won the Cameron Mackintosh Award and Festgoers Award at this year’s NSDF? That’s right. The three-hour Mozart marathon.
My friends, I stand corrected. But only for 90 minutes.
... Upstaged: Sex
... Upstaged: Blood
Image by Narcsville.