Lambs to the Slaughter

Last week was unrelenting, so much so that didn’t end until Wednesday. In addition to my usual duties – none of which you would care for me to enumerate – I had to take part in seven plays in six days. This is the very reason that I gave up GSCE Drama; that and the momentary misstep that I should probably train to become a doctor.

The first was a run of The Rules of the Game , a community theatre piece, by Partisan Productions, about ‘secret’ sectarianism. Ms. McGreevy, who you might remember from my teenage years, and myself were responsible for the music: a sort of Weillesque plod through the scenery. I found myself on accordion, an instrument that I can barely brace across my chest, let alone play, which is, of course, the reason I gave up GCSE Music; that and the momentary misstep that I should probably train to become a doctor.

I was lumbered too with accordion responsibilities in Wireless Mystery Theatre’s successful production of Mercury Theatre’s War of the Worlds . All of which makes me regret buying the thing from that poor, dying woman that sold it me. I don’t see that my £10 would have been much help at all.

The worst and most troubling event of last week, though, was Wireless Mystery Theatre’s other endeavour, which was something of a departure into reputable theatre. The company was invited, nay strongly recommended, to perform Carlo Gebler’s Charles & Mary, in Mr. Torrans’s lovely No Alibis bookstore. The radio play was originally broadcast in January of this year and it was hoped we would recreate it for the launch of Mr. Gebler’s new book. Which we did, down to the tinny, distant quality of listening to the original through a transistor radio.

Now, some will suggest that it is because Ms. Clarke, the producer of WMT, is also my Beloved that I was cast as the male lead, Charles Lamb. This couldn’t be further from the truth; the truth is that, because Ms. Clarke is also my Beloved, I couldn’t get out of playing Charles Lamb, however much I begged, as she already has too much information against me. Thankfully, I never have to act again, unless I fall on hard times.

Mr. Gebler’s play is a marvellous piece of work though. It tells the true tale of Charles and Mary Lamb, the authors of the early-19th Century children’s primer, Tales From Shakespeare . Also, incidentally, he was an alcoholic and she was a paranoid schizophrenic who killed their mother. It is easier, I think, to play people without issues or extenuating circumstances, but there is probably a reason why such ideal characters are seldom written. If the intense Ms. Lamb were only plain, there would be no story, and the excellent Ms. Bronagh McCrudden would not have received such plaudits as “capital,” “excellent,” and “a Tour de France.” The last didn’t seem to make much sense.

What affected both the Lambs is dreadfully complex: they were poor, but educated; their mother was overbearing; Mary, the elder, raised Charles, and their relationship was completely co-dependent as a result. Yet, Mr. Gebler, who gave an engaging mini-lecture at the end, was both warm and humane in discussing them and Ms. Lamb’s one fierce and conclusive act: although people may do terrible things, they are not defined by those terrible things. Or, at least, most are defined by their attempts to atone or overcome. This comes from his many years of working with prisoners in Maghaberry and his views on rehabilitation, recidivism, and mental illness were refreshing.

Of course, the other thing that knocked the Lambs off-kilter was books and surrounded by them in No Alibis, one can understand why. The childhood of the Lambs was spent reading romances and fantasy and the Shakespeare that would make their names and lead to their downfall. They could not translate the ideals of fairytales into real-life behaviour. I spent far too much of the performance eying up the copy of Trois par Georges Perec that I had been reading during sound check, unable to translate its ideal French into real-life English. This is, of course, why I gave up GCSE French.

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