preamble: i really, really, really hated the end of Chris Goode’s Mirabel which recently ran at the Ovalhouse theatre. i messaged ava about it ( @avawongdavies ) and she suggested we write a response together.
the emails contain a lot of reference to ben (kulvichit), one of my closest friends and coworkers, with whom I spent two years of university going through the wringer to stage a Chris Goode show (speed death of the radiant child) and is also one half of emergency chorus, who Chris had on his podcast Thompson’s Live after seeing and loving Celebration. I exist near to Chris, as a fan of his work, but as someone who primarily produces, I don’t exist on the same level of theatre maker-theatre maker mutual admiration as is the case with Ben and Clara.
basically, the ending of mirabel pulled the rug out from underneath me in a very deep way, and I felt insignificant and weak and artistically illiterate. here’s what followed.
Nov 18, 2018, 6:13 PM
FIRST. i really really liked mirabel until the last 10 minutes. i feel like i need to preface with that, because we’re doing this exchange after i felt really upset about it today. so, good things. i’ve never seen chris goode perform before and he’s actually sick. the animations with the song half way through got me right There. the writing was like being 14 and reading an obscure fantasy novel and becoming obsessed with reading again after taking two years to finish great expectations.
I’ve been thinking about The Author. I think i watched the show with a certain opinion of chris goode. not a negative one at all, i’ve watched and loved a bunch of his stuff, and god knows making speed death was a labour of adoration
but I definitely see him as an AUTHOR. Like it’s a CHRIS GOODE show. and I think that’s more prominent in Mirabel where he’s performing his own words. My anxiety tells me that there a correct and incorrect way of engaging with his work, you either get what he’s about or you don’t.
(I low level believe that he makes theatre because it feeds his ego, which is probably unfair of me, and a product of my own insecurities and hallucinations about existing in this industry. Honestly, I think I see a lot of directors in this way, having never directed myself. I just assume that they’re all doing it for their own ego.)
But the thing that kicked my crying fit today, was that I fundamentally disagreed with Ben about Mirabel. It’s one of his favourite things of the year, and I felt really upset and angered by the show. Because i don’t feel like i can disagree with ben? i don’t think my opinions are as good as his and disagreeing about something doesn’t feel like a discussion it feels like defeat.
because him and chris are on the same plane. so when I came out of mirabel and felt really upset by the ending, my first instinct was that chris obviously intended it that way. and i felt really betrayed.
Sun, Nov 18, 8:33 PM
there is a lot!!! here to unpack so i’ll try to respond best i can.
i think there is definitely a perception of chris goode as a certain type of maker – well, what i mean is that if i think of a chris goode show (and i’ve only read men in the cities and the author (can u even call that a chris goode show??) and i’ve only seen weaklings, which i hated, and speed death, which is probably one of my favourite things i’ve ever seen and definitely one of my favourite texts, but if i think of a chris goode show i think of
– power and abuse of it
– kindness, sitting somewhere deep within it
did u think the show was about his own ego? bcos i don’t think u are wrong at all if that’s the case, at least every show of his i know seems to be concerned w making art and being an artist n what does that mean, to some extent, but i think i saw mirabel as being a lot more bruised and damaged and desperately sad than u did – i mean it is all of those things in the story of mirabel and wolf and urban and duckling and salad and the rock (idk how to spell the rock’s name) but then i think the final few minutes that u hated were like an implosion and distillation of all those things too. but that’s something that i saw n u didn’t see, n i don’t think either of us have a monopoly on the meaning of the ending, and neither does ben and neither does chris goode, to b frank!!
i think u have an interesting relationship w ben and i think part of it comes from not only being his friend but also his producer, on both speed death and emergency chorus shows. maybe there’s something 2 be said about u feeling like u are less creatively able 2 defend ur own feelings n emotions bcos on some level u don’t see urself as having the same creative control/output/faculties?? as him. but i might b totally wrong, ofc.
i think the ending is certainly meant 2 be extremely jarring n upsetting and more distressing than any of the content we see before it but i also see it as just being so much more desperately sad than anything else in the piece. idk. i haven’t q wrapped my head around it yet, as is the case w every single chris goode show i see. but ur feelings are valid n that shattering of the fairytale is really awful n horrible n feels like a deliberate betrayal of what comes before it, but i think there is a core of complete despair in it which kinda….lifted it. for me at least. made it less……callous. more desperate. like seeing ur dad cry, or something.
love ava xx
Nov 19, 2018, 2:01 PM
(lol at us in our first week of first year getting taken to see weaklings. how far we have come)
yeah, i do think that chris makes theatre about his ego, but it’s always self aware. and you know my favourite shows have always been about making theatre. see beginners / lights over tesco / insert slogan here.
I think Mirabel has this extra layer- there is a whole thing of of searching for a grown up. a grown up with authority to write a play, to save the world, someone to tell. and i think part of the reason i was so angry and upset, was that chris set himself up as being one of the kids, in this space of play, then turned out to be a grown up.
at the very beginning, he’s got this cbeebies bedtime story voice on, and he does the thing of presenting himself to the audience, making eye contact and saying hey i’m here you’re here, we’re in this together, in this place where we can be silly and things are semi real but still matter and it’s all about play .
then from the escalator monologue, he starts speaking in grown up words. i think he’s saying ‘this was what it was about all along!’ and i’m just thinking Am I Supposed To Understand This?
he takes over mirabel’s voice
he becomes a grown up
he kills mirabel.
when I go to the theatre i am placing my trust in the person(s) on stage to take care of me. that’s why i loved Beginners so much, it fizzed with this riotous joy of everything being real and everything mattering and being beautiful.
and i just kept thinking after the show, chris you ruined it by being a grown up. the grown up, like the Man in school of rock, you know. the grown up who tells the story, who burnt out the ozone layer, who crashed the economy. who’s biting a greyhound on the face.
and of course, chris was always the grown up. he never pretended otherwise. it’s chris goode and company, he’s written this.
I told you that the play was treading on some serious fault lines with my mental illness- mainly my struggles compartmentalising and distinguishing reality from fiction. in the depths of an episode i’ve hallucinated conversations that never happened or believed I’ve done things for which i’m in no way responsible.
the thing is, I’m usually absolutely fine in the theatre?! but recently Ben had to play a dead body in a rehearsal room and I couldn’t handle it, it was pushing the boundaries of what I could look at and accept as fiction. I couldn’t stop crying and I had to go to the directors and ask them to swap him out.
So the ending, it felt like chris was saying haha suckers she was in a coma all along wow emily you thought that was real? and it threw me out of myself. because i was so comfortable in mirabel’s world, and being yanked out of it like that was actually painful, and confused me, and made me cry on the train home. but like. i also don’t want my objections to the play to be dismissed because they’re tied up with my mental illness.
Chris is probably as desperately sad about the ending as I am. it was like seeing your dad cry, but i couldn’t stop having this temper tantrum of ‘You wrote this! you could have controlled this! this is your fault!’
Chris and Ben are both Makers and Writers who are really clever and create worlds that they control. and there is this sense of powerlessness i feel when facing an AUTHOR. (does this make any sense at all lol)
Nov 19, 2018, 2:58 PM
i know what u mean about the grown up i think, but u know that bit when wolf is like “hey i don’t want to do this bit, i think it’s really horrible, where’s the writer”? i found that kinda interesting cos like – i’m a bit tired of that trope, tbh, it feels like it’s getting a bit tired now, for me at least, but the reason i didn’t mind it in mirabel was bcos there was the extra layer of – oh chris is the one telling the story but he’s also performing so he’s kinda like giving permission for wolf to say this – in other words like – he’s always maintaining absolute control in mirabel, whereas when that device is used in other shows, it tends to be a like “oh shit the performance is coming apart!” but here it was like no he’s always in absolute control and he’s going to keep going whether wolf likes it or not (and wolf isn’t even fucking REAL on so many levels, partly bcos he’s a stuffed bear and partly because this is a fucking play anyway!) u know?
i’ve never expected theatre to take care of me.
when we saw imagined touch at SPILL together, i remember u saying something along those lines and i remember being quite shocked (? if that’s the right word) at that from you, bcos i had never considered that theatre has to take care of me. i think it has 2 be responsible but i don’t think it has to take care of me. i think there’s a really slim difference there.
but i think i do agree w what ur saying about chris positioning himself as a child, as one of us, and then being the grownup, but i think i was probably a little less trusting than u of that genial persona he puts on at the beginning. i think i am generally a little less trusting than u, in life. i was talking 2 someone who said u seemed constantly delighted by everything n i think that is one of ur most wonderful qualities n one i wish i emulated more, but i guess i am just (sadly) a lot more cynical n distrustful. but yh like u say, chris never pretended otherwise. i think u were maybe more willing to trust him than i was – and as a result i think it seems that i got more from the show than u? which feels strange and counterintuitive, lol.
ur ties to the play bcos of ur mental health are totally valid tho. i don’t rlly think there is any not-valid response to art/theatre (within reason, obv) n i think ur viewing the play through ur intensely!! subjective lens bcos of ur relation 2 reality and fantasy and that’s just as valid as my response, which was a lot more detached n viewing it as, like, “art”, yk. i don’t think any1 could deny ur reaction to the play j bcos u were triggered in some way by it!!
not 2 be super roland barthes but the author is such bs tho!! n i think chris and ben would probably both agree that they do not have control over what they’re making. idk though bcos i totally get that it feels like chris was pulling one over us w the ending of mirabel but like……idk. ur reaction was UR reaction, do u know what i mean? authors can only rlly throw bits and pieces out into the air n the way they land on us, the audience/the reader is kinda just totally random, i think.
love avie (n i hope ur ok xxx)
20 November 2018 2:11 PM
typing this on my phone on the bus on my way to see you
yeah I’m ok, I hope you’re ok. I’m going to give you a big hug when I get there.
i demand to know who said that nice thing about me for purposes of my self confidence.
your point about wolf and Chris carrying on is really gud and not something i’d thought about- is that the line where chris says ‘the writer must be mentally ill’? because i’ve been turning that over and over in my head. the intersections of mentally ill maker and audience member, and to what extent either party has to compromise or put themselves through shit to meet in the middle
I think I expect theatre to take care of me because in situations of life in extremis, that’s the basis of my interaction with other people? like, when i’m ill or sad, I literally need handling like a child. I need feeding and taking out for walks and physical contact.
but there’s also this desire in me to take care of other people, which comes out in the producing and mothering our incapable boy pals. and I guess that emotional investment in things, which includes theatre, is the reason I throw myself into stuff and engage my whole body in watching a show
and maybe that care and investment is actually really draining and a broader concept of responsibility is the best way for a society or a theatre space to function. This shit is complex
on another thing, I was thinking about when we went to see the CBB triple bill and it was So Much. and you went home early but I stayed to the end even though I was exhausted, and I remember feeling really cross with Ben that he’d had such a great time. And I was like ???? am I just not healthy enough to enjoy theatre?? This is bullshit???!!
But over the course of writing this I feel like chris has actually given me something really interesting and delicate- the intersection of artist and audience members’ mental illnesses actually making something painful but new and articulate. I am feeling a lot better about Mirabel already (thank you for doing this with me)
also ur super Roland Barthes. the boogie London literary girl twitter was written about you.
Almost at Foyles now, see you in 5 xxx