THEATRE / Between the Lines: Paul Miller recalls the naked truth of Peter Gill

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The Independent Culture
'How can one just keep saying I love you or I need you or I love you. Over and over. You'd be bored. One has to say other things when one wants not to speak at all but to say please or help or come or love or please or cry. Over and over and over.'

(Mean Tears, 1987, by Peter Gill)

The kind of emotional realism shown in these lines has always been harder to write about than the simple- minded stridency which mesmerised journalists throughout the late 1980s when Mean Tears was written. The play is the story of a painfully unbalanced love affair portrayed with unsparing honesty and irony. The observations of class and human feeling are scrupulously delineated yet entirely natural, never merely didactic, but Gill's writing has also made me laugh until it hurt.

I was 21 when I first arrived in London and encountered Peter Gill and his work at the National Theatre's Studio. His rigour of thought and refusal to swim with the tide have always made him something of a dissenter in mainstream theatre - a radical champion of new talent and high standards. He uses concentrated human images and directs actors so well that a line like the one above, from the closing speech of the play, played out on a bare stage, has all the gestural grace and power that I demand of the theatre, without recourse to what Gill calls the 'European design mountain'. All this made a strong impression on me. Mean Tears reminds me of the time I spent during what amounted to an apprenticeship at the Studio - a time that was combative, engaging and unsettling in the best way.

Paul Miller's production of Schiller's tragedy 'The Robbers' is at Grace at the Latchmere, London SW11 (071-228 2820) until 1 May

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