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Crude Prospects by Les Foules at The Vaults, London


Overall the play  Crude Prospects was a triumph. Intellectually stimulating it was performed with outstanding zeal and panache by four actors who chose to animate the often labyrinthine text with great versatility and technical skill. The acting was always first class.

And what a strange, curious and interesting play: set somewhere in northern North America, Crude Prospects impressed as a manifestly contemporary and multi-layered work – with rapid and unexpected scene changes. It highlighted, among other things, our wider culture of the ‘narrative’ as well as the pure pleasure of evocative language-in-use.

Crude Prospects eschewed any straightforward storyline or plot: no one was entirely certain of anything. But, to Les Foules great credit, the audience was forewarned (through Vladimir Nabokov) that ‘literature is invention and fiction is fiction. To call a story a true story is an insult both to art and truth.’ So we knew that we never going to get anything simple or simplistic.

However, two themes definitely emerged as the play unfolded.

The first concerned a study of power – of types of powers – from the macro-level of tussling nation states, the struggle to exploit and harness the potential of natural resources, the threatening powers of geography and the icy physical environment, to conflicts of social values and further on, down, to the micro-politics of police-citizen encounters.

The second dealt with the edge of sanity to which we are all subject. For me this emerged as the most significant element in Crude Prospects: each actor had something to show us about going crazy. The arational crackled like sparks of electricity throughout the performance.

At the onset of the play Brett (Norma Butikofer) gave us a fascinating rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Vampire Blues’ and from then on brilliantly sustained her portrayal of an enigmatic, mystified and mystifying character.
Kathy (Nadege Adlam) amazed and delighted her audience with passion, vivacity, poetry and that elusive rare gift of pure ‘presence’.
Wheeler (Brian Tynan) – the ‘officer of the law’ – was absolutely riveting as he gave us an object lesson in the bizarre psychology of out-of-the-way police officers.
Joe (Lennard Sillevis) was terrific – a wonderfully versatile actor who has that great capacity, through voice and gesture, to manifest a very wide range of moods and emotions.

In addition, each actor mastered a complex and often difficult text – with verve, with sparkle and great aplomb: Very well done to them all.

In conclusion  it’s important to note that the play’s critical political edge was established at its outset through the song Vampire Blues. The opening verse tells us that:

I’m a vampire, babe, suckin’ blood from the earth
I’m a vampire, baby, suckin’ blood from the earth.
Well, I’m a vampire, babe,
I’ll sell you twenty barrels worth

It returned to that same song at its conclusion. The closing verse declares that:

Good times are comin’,
I hear it everywhere I go.
Good times are comin’,
but they sure comin’ slow.

So, Crude Prospects left us with a possible storyline: in the beginning was oil and then came the people and then came a song …

Peter Wiedmann’s text was intelligent, intricate, ziggy-zaggy, pointed and humorous. The quality of dialogue was excellent. Nathalie Adlam, once again, excelled in her role as director.

The Les Foules team deserves the highest praise for its ability to stage such an exceptional piece of theatre. Cassandra Fumi’s professional production skills, Sarah Crocker’s splendid lighting and Malachi Orozco’s adept technical support were indispensable to the success of the venture.

The play was enhanced both through the provision of moving images featuring places in or close to the Arctic Circle and the exquisite plangent chords of Tom MacLean’s guitar playing. I would have liked to have heard more!

Susana Silva: London (a first note)

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She’d turned her back to the wind. Alongside her, and to her left, the river – the river Thames. Waterloo nearby. It’s the heart of London. The wind was streaming along the river, streaming over the river, a river so sad, dull and grey under that winter’s sky.

In front of her, and right against her face, was one of those large microphones that singers use for recording songs. (Like the Beatles and Bob Dylan once did.)

She played a beautiful guitar, the kind of guitar that is more than a friend, an acoustic guitar – and as she played the tips of her fingers poked out through some holes in her woollen gloves. (Little gloves – quite charming – all in harmony.)

Against the wind – with the woollen hood of her soft and muted coat raised up to keep her from the cold: For a moment she made me think of those old paintings of monks – the ones with them wearing their brown or black or greyish cowls. Bare necessities.

I couldn’t really see her face and when she sang she didn’t really seem to open her eyes. She was taken by the music, her music.

She sang the blues, folk blues, jazz blues, soul blues.

There are some things we have to pass over in silence because the words just don’t get the meaning and the feelings. She was achingly good. She sang ’real good’ for free. You can’t do better than that.

I never saw her face but a little cardboard sign told me that her name was Susana Silva. Near to that great big turning wheel, she was singing, like a jewel, on the promenades of the South Bank of the Thames.

P.S. ‘For Free‘ is a wonderful  song by Joni Mitchell, a reference to which is made in the above notes.