The Humber Mouth
Hull Literature
Festival 2003

{ Hull Literature Festival 2003 6th - 16th November 2003
 the humber mouth }


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Festival Critic

{ Festival Critic: Steven Hall }

Renegade Soundwave

Writers Day

Ibsen vs. Strindberg

Jeremy Hardy vs the Israeli Army

An Audience with Joan Bakewell

Woza Albert!

Imetexture

Pooh Bear Reading Workshop

Readers Day

Theatre Test Tube

Ibsen vs. Strindberg

On Sunday night you go to see Ibsen vs. Strindberg at Kingston Rowing Club.

Not quite knowing where the venue is, you order a taxi. Your taxi diver drives you to the end of Beresford Avenue, which ends in a line of trees and darkness. Naturally, you are confused by this. You say something like:

“Where is it? Where’s the theatre?”

And the taxi driver pulls up, points vaguely at the trees and says something sinister like:

“This is as far as I can go,” or, “this is where they all get out.” (and then the effect is ruined by a: “That’s £3.75.” and some un-dramatic change-swapping)

Anyway.

So you get out of the taxi and you’re lucky, there’s someone from the venue giving directions. Leaning against a car in the half dark is a guy in a black suit with no hair. And you say:

“Do you know where the theatre is?”

And he says: “Through that gap in the fence, there’s a path. It’s hard to see. You follow it across the park and into those woods over there.”

He doesn’t laugh when he says this.

“Park?” you say.

He nods.

“Woods?” you say.

He nods.

And so off you go (because you’re brave, and noble) through the fence, along the path (which is hard to see) and into the woods. And when you get into the woods you see lights. Nice, round spotlights and little twinkley ones too, and you head towards them. Somebody shines a torch in your face.

When I got this far, a voice I couldn’t see said - “Oh God, not you.” But you’re not me and so that doesn’t happen. What happens instead is you get up to the gate and there are two people waiting for you. A bit like doormen. But in a forest. At night. With twinkley lights.

“Hello,” you say, feeling a bit like you’re in a Lewis Carroll novel, “I’ve come to see the plays: Ibsen vs. Strindberg?”

“Okay,” they say. “In you go – it’s the big building on the right.”

So you go in through the gate, which is in a hedge, past a house, past what looks like a grotto with more twinkley lights and into a big dark building through a flap in a tarpaulin sheet.

What you see when you get inside takes your breath away. The building is an Aladdin’s cave of art, oddities, objects, structures and stuff. There are piles of wood, mannequin heads, ladders and a boat poking through the beams in the roof, there are other things too, thousands of other things although now, the next day, you can only separate ideas of a few unlikely objects from the jumble - was their really a piano? Was their really an old half buried fruit machine?

In the middle of the room are tables and chairs, patio furniture. One of the tables even has a parasol. And sitting around the tale and chairs are other members of the audience. Brave and noble people like you. People who know. At one end there is a stage. You’ve made it.

I’ve got to say, Kingston Rowing Club is probably the most exciting venue I’ve ever been to. It’s an amazing place and getting there the first time, finding it, is an adventure in itself.

On Sunday 9th the Kingston Rowing Club Players presented Ibsen vs. Strindberg. Two adapted plays, one by each playwright, went head to head to represent the great animosity between the two men during their working lives. The venue was perfect for this kind of event. It felt like the setting for a bare-knuckle boxing match, like Fight Club.

Heading up Team Ibsen and presenting a half hour adaptation of Ghosts was Philip Wincolmlee Barns, against him and leading Team Strindberg for in half hour adaptation of The Father – Espen Jensen.

Going into the event, my money was on Barnes. I’d seen Barnes at his In Other Words event a few months earlier and knew he was a strong writer and director and, if push came to shove (which of course, it must) a capable actor to boot. Jensen, to me, was an unknown quantity.

So it would be Barnes. Team Ibsen to come out on top. Except it wasn’t, they didn’t.

Team Ibsen went on first and had a bad night actor-wise. Barnes, the strongest performer in his cast as it transpired, didn’t have enough stage time to keep things together. The result was difficult and bitty with ongoing problems obscuring the new treatment of the play until the final few minutes.

But if it was a bad night for Ibsen, it was a great night for Strindberg. Jensen led his production from the front, being the only actor from Team Strindberg to physically step on stage.

Looking like some exhausted, chain-smoking Jesus, Jensen was wonderful in the role of the continually harassed, computer-bound father, a man being slowly crushed at his desk by the emotional weight of constant and absurd phone pestering from the people around him. Jensen’s adaptation was very strong too – wisely, he injected some humour into his pressure-cooker of a play, a move which paid off with great responses from the audience and which ultimately gave his character’s suffering even greater emotional impact.

So it was Strindberg. Strindberg took Ibsen down in round one.
But we all have off nights, and Barnes will be back for a rematch I’m sure.

Sunday November 9th
Ibsen vs Strindberg
Kingston Rowing Club


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