Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Notebook

Hmph. It seems Tim Etchells has already thoroughly critiqued Forced Entertainment's The Notebook here.

This is becoming a theme for me in FEs work - this defense against criticism, and by extension a kind of forced production of new pathways in critical thought. It's about as thorough a program note as you'll get, and, yep, covers virtually everything I was about to try and write. I suppose if you block off all other avenues, then all that remains is the creation of a new response. I'm yet to exactly make my mind up about whether this is really good or not... something about a correct theatrical intention being impenetrable to the words 'I liked it' or 'I didn't like it', and so instead demanding something else be said.

The Notebook is adapted, pretty strictly it would seem, from Ágota Kristóf's 1986 novel, translated into English with the same title. The story follows a pair of twin boys who one day are shipped off to live with their grandmother, and subsequently learn their survival during WW2 by teaching themselves. The ambiguous process of this learning and decision-making is presented without judgement in both novel and play, and the boys become desensitised to the horrors and pleasures of life. This desensitisation occurs the extent that they are able to respond to situations in ways at once empathetic and inhuman, training themselves into unwavering ethical machines.

The two actors on the stage (Richard Lowdon and Robin Archer) read the play from books, and it's split into stories which we later find out were written by the boys themselves as part of their 'Mind exercises' aimed at improving their chances of survival. The situations they witness include beastiality, killing their mother, whipping a visiting officer for sexual pleasure, blackmailing a priest, and so on. In each scenario, the decision of the boys is almost entirely, and very interestingly, justified by the context, to an extent that is hilarious, absurdly consequential, yet totally rational. Oh, you fucked a dog? Guess that didn't hurt anyone, and you're very poor. No problem. You don't want to give us these notebooks, which we absolutely need, for free or in exchange of eggs? Then we will just stare at you until you do. And when you ask us never to come back, we will tell you that, naturally, we will be obliged to come back - when we run out of paper.