Katie Mitchell's Waves made waves – and not just because it's a controversial and remarkable theatre piece – when it first surfaced two years ago.
No, it was also one of the prime exhibits in L'Affaire Hytner and the attack on "dead white male" critics. It proved to be a boon, though, for the defence. Certain dead white male critics were among the show's strongest supporters. Certainly living and, yes, white female critics were revealed to have been less then entirely smitten – either with the show or with the Virginia Woolf novel to which it constitutes a stunningly creative response. There was a period where reviews weren't so much read as checked for gender. Fur flew, writs almost flew and I wouldn't be dragging it all up again if it weren't for this.
The show has just re-entered the NT's repertoire prior to going on tour. I worried that it had grown in importance in my head as a result of all that fuss about critics. Not a bit of it, as it transpires. Enriched with all the experience she has gained in mounting other multi-media work in the interim (Attempts On Her Life, ...some trace of her), Mitchell returns to this project and takes it to a whole new level of accomplishment.
The Waves is not your usual novel-to-play fodder, being composed entirely of monologues. The cast double as protagonist and technicians in a show that splits in several directions: stage/screen; screen/split screen; the Brechtian show-and-tell schtick and the deep involvement of close-up. One could go on. I realise for the first time how brilliantly chosen the music is for a piece that spans the early decades of the last century. My favourite moment: the occasions when the cast, while producing radio sound-effects, suddenly join in an impromptu-seeming flamenco dance of clicked heels on false pavements.
What a pity the NT did Proust so recently. A la recherche du temps perdu would respond so richly to the Mitchell treatment – unlock itself in unexpected ways and unlock her, too. And us.
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