Diana in a basement

My holiday’s over already, and I only got half the things done I wanted to (isn’t that always the way?), but it’s been a good few days off anyway. I managed to get caught up with my reading for my linguistics course (plus knock a couple of books off Mt TBR), helped MrPloppy to tidy up his website and deliver a tonne of flyers, and made significant progress on my secret project. But mostly it was just a good restful break.

MrPloppy has had quite a few customers lately, so on Friday he decided he could afford to pay himself a wee bit of salary for the first time. So we decided to blow it on going out for dinner (we’ll do more sensible things with his salary next time he takes some, but the first one’s special 🙂 )

So after a quick visit to Alice’s to pick up a couple of DVDs for Saturday night (I left Watership Down by Richard Adams on a shelf while we were searching for something suitable), we went to Flying Burrito Brothers and had a very enjoyable meal. It’s been ages since we went out for dinner for no particular reason. Oh, and of course I released another book: The Kitchen Man by Ira Wood.

Then we went to what is probably the weirdest play I’ve ever seen: Diana Down Under. This wasn’t exactly a surprise – we went fully expecting it to be weird and utterly pretentious (a puppet show about the Princess of Wales, produced by a theatre company connected to the university’s drama department – what else could it be?), but thought it would be worth a laugh. We didn’t know just *how* weird though.

For a start, instead of using their normal small theatre in the Arts Centre, they were putting it on in one of the Arts Centre’s basements. And when we finally found the door in a dark corner of a courtyard, and went to go in, we were stopped and told we had to wait outside (I took the opportunity to release a very appropriate book: Royal Wedding. A very small crowd gathered (maybe a dozen people), and eventually someone came out to us, gave each of us a candle, then we were admitted one at a time (you can imagine how impressed MrPloppy was by that idea!), and led by candlelight, in total silence, down narrow stairs to the basement.

In the basement a group of people dressed in black stood holding candles. Silently my usher indicated a shrine-like table in the centre of the room and gestured that I should add my candle to it, then led me to a seat. There was no audience area as such, just seats scattered around the basement, with the set (such as it was) among and around them. My seat was one of four car seats with tyres attached. Other seats were old theatre seats, a bed, a row of toilets (!), kitchen chairs round a table… You couldn’t actually see the whole set from any of the seats, because there were pillars (holding up the building above) in the middle of the room, but there were mirrors in various strategic places so you could at least get a vague impression).

Eventually all the audience were seated (MrPloppy was in a completely different area than me – it looked like they were deliberately splitting up couples and groups, because I noticed that none of the people who had been chatting together while we were waiting were seated together), all the candles on the shrine were extinguished, and the room was plunged into darkness. Then the actors, who had all left the room, re-entered carrying candles and singing a latin hymn (it actually sounded really amazing in that small concrete-walled space – incredible echoes!)

What followed was so confusing that I couldn’t have given you a coherent account of it even as it was happening. Basically, the actors, using a range of puppets (most life-size, made of every conceivable material), aided by TV monitors scattered around the room showing video clips, explored various aspects of Diana’s life, from the fairytale wedding to the bulimia to her charity work to the crash in the Paris tunnel. The action was going on simultaneously in all the different areas of the room, and it wasn’t entirely clear often who was an actor and who was an audience member (which was confused even more when some of the audience started swapping seats so they could sit with together or get a better view, so there were actors and audience members moving about at the same time…). Oh, and there was no dialogue as such – the actors just all chanted seemingly random snippets from Diana’s (plus I think occasionally Charles’s, James Hewitt’s, and Lord Spencer’s) speeches and interviews. All at the same time. So that the overall impression was a murmured wall of sound, from which you could make out the odd snippet here and there. Sounds confusing? Nowhere near as confusing as being there!

Oh, and with the audience scattered among the action, it was necessarily interactive – towards the end I ended up with a puppet on my knee, with no idea what I was supposed to do with it. It started getting really heavy after a while, too! (It was life-sized, made of a combination of chicken-wire and plaster of paris, and must have weighed about the same as a real person)

The end was just as weird as the rest. The actors started singing the hymn again and filed out, and then nothing. Nobody was entirely certain whether it was actually over, so we were all left sitting around and whispering to each other “Is that it? Can we go now?”, but reluctant to be the first to actually leave in case it wasn’t.

When MrPloppy and I got outside, it was all we could do to get out of earshot before we started laughing. We were still giggling by the time we got home – it may not have been intended as a comedy, but it was definitely the funniest play we’d seen in a very long time!

Last time Tam was here, she and MrPloppy were discussing bad movies, so we decided on Saturday night she should come round and we’d watch a couple of classics. We picked Bride of the Monster (Ed Wood at his best worst), and Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas (the wonderfully surreal 1960’s Inger Nilsson version). Accompanied with plenty of jaffas and popcorn (don’t worry, we made our own – none of that nasty chemical stuff), it was a brilliant evening, with loads of laughs. Tam had also brought along a DVD of the very odd cartoon series Aqua Teen Hunger Force, so it turned into a bit of a late night.

Anyway, back to work tomorrow, and full-on into the busiest part of the year. But at least I’ve had a good break, and it’s not *that* long until christmas…

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