People in the interviewing game will tell you that it's not the interview itself that's the problem, it's the waiting to do it. The longest I've been kept waiting was three hours by the great American auteur Robert Wilson.
I arrived in the vast lobby of the monumental Berlin hotel at the appointed hour. A call was put through to his room and I sat down with tape-recorder and notebook in an utterly dwarfing armchair in the vastly dwarfing lobby, and waited for a proportionately epic length of time.
The preposterous pay-off was this: having held back from going to loo for three hours, desperate not to miss him, in the end I had to answer Nature's clamant call. I got back to the lobby to find Wilson enthroned at the centre of an archipelago of empty chairs. He clocked me and murmured, in those laid-back, burly, and ineffably camp tones of his: "Oh, so there you are."
I was reminded of this incident by Some Kind of Bliss, the very funny, shrewd, and moving monologue that Samuel Adamson has written expressly for Lucy Briers, who performs it to delightful perfection now in Toby Frow's wonderful production. Briers plays Rachel, a freelance journalist of advancing (ie thirty-something) years, who specialises in pop-culture features for the Daily Mail.
When we first see her, she is standing at the bottom of a ramp gazing apprehensively up at the luminous haze at the top of it. The picture it presents looks almost allegorical, not to say eschatological, as though Lucy is about to ascend to a date with the Recording Angel.
The person she is on the point of meeting has, in fact, recorded in her time. Most notably a song, called "Boom Bang-a-Bang". Yes, it's Lulu at her home in Greenwich. But Rachel is not in a prime state to conduct the interview. She's got a black eye and she's "weeping blood over my shag-me shoes" (and Lulu's people have noticed).
How did Rachel get into this state? That's what the monologue – which, you gradually realise with pleasure, has a sly, witty, and wondrous feel for the repetition and variations and changes of key of a well-structured piece of music – backtracks and tells us. I was a mere three hours waiting for Wilson and it was not a self-imposed ordeal. Rachel inflicts upon herself twice that run-up time to her session with Lulu.
Why? Because it's her teacher husband's half term and she wants to escape "the tyranny of niceness" of his regime. So she exiles herself from home, and, with iPod, killer outfit and six hours to kill, she decides to go on a trek across London down the Thames towpath to Lulu's residence in Greenwich.
Briers, who has inherited her father Richard's endearing features with a twist of wistfulness, brings out all of Rachel's cleverness and cussedness and tragicomic defensivess. She's declassée on the Mail, as a result of a childhood rebellion against her academic father and her infatuation with her uncle Stevie, whose stash she would nurse while he sang with a Bowie-tribute band called Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Croydon (I'd like to get my hands on some of their bootlegs).
The cleverness of the monologue lies in the artful way it interweaves real and fantasy adventures (sex with a teenage male tart who demands payment, being mugged by a Chinese man) with the voices of spouse and friends (her snooty university pal who now edits the New Statesman), who are like internal monitors on her experience. It's full of lovely turns of phrase. When they were undergrads together, the future NS chief, "fed her salmon from a great height" (you know just the type).
And, though the escapades sometimes feel more like what would befall a gay male rather than a Rachel, it has moments of utter emotional authenticity, as when Rachel stares at an emailed photo of her father and notices how "he's looking more like my dead Uncle Stevie than he could know". Very warmly recommended.
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