If you’re playing a real drama like Hedda Gabler, you just kill yourself and go home and it’s over. But a soap like this is day after day and it stays with you. June Brown on playing Dot Cotton.
Lest by this that anyone thinks I’m depressed, I’m not. Actually to me what June Brown says is magic and funny. It is also how these forms function – it’s not only playing that counts: looking is a being-done-to, but also a kind of doing, like reading and breathing. So through lung fog I think about everything we go through and how. Tragedy/soap opera. Melodrama, another thing. Tragedy isn’t misery. About what is sustaining. What is day after day. What stays and how we get out of it. What moves and how against the lack of resolution. An ask to show me the show versus a frame rubbed out. The threat of the visible frame or the danger of its invisibility. The proscenium arch/one kind of television: this kind of television is a rubbed out frame, but we’re already done with it because we found others that are even more so. And then that really we all or this or me or art ought to be Hedda, but that it is or we are only because it is or we are the Dot who produces her: . . .
Thus Brandon in Brighton. Harry and I are in the Queens Arms because I wanted something to do and it is KKK: Kamp Kevin’s Karaoke. Smashing. Two halves of Fosters and we stand at an island table. It’s not late and there are just a few smeared around the edges. KK is sloping in a chair in the DJ booth, looking like it’s sophisticated and powerful yet entirely hopeless, emitting that really complicated kind of nasty you could also call spineless but that doesn’t necessarily mean what it seems. On the ledge in front of him is a small pile of paper slips face down with curled up edges like they’ve either been re-used or filled in and flicked with a damp thumb and an empty plastic jug for the spent ones.
Things get underway. I like it. Harry wonders how I know the lyrics without reading the words and I remind him of when I lipsynched The Greatest Love of All in Kumpelnest on Kerstin’s birthday and his total horror and almost walking out. Go figure. Anyway, KK announces “Now, if you’re thinking about slitting your wrists tonight here is the perfect suicide song… perfect suicide song, if you’re feeling miserable, here’s the song…. Would Brandon please come to the stage. Brandon. Where’s Brandon, come to the stage Brandon. Brandon…” And what it was in this was, sure, the suspense and the excitement at such a song, but also just what KK’s relationship to Brandon might be – like, it was indeterminable if KK knew Brandon, though I thought he must to try and get away with high camp negative capability/corporality but really it could have been a genuine irritation, karaoke fatigue exasperation and mild general contempt, fondness and familiarity, playing with a kitten you don’t like or possibly just spite.
Brandon mounts the stage. He came from nowhere and has no supporters in the room. Jeans and a sweatshirt, Reeboks but not fashionably so, just plainly with a peaceful face and mid-length, washed, mid-brown hair, a soft 1970s. These solo karaokers are incredible to me. To give and what to get? To sing and hear. To see and do. To act and witness. Call and response. What’s the request, to who? To be with…
My Way strikes up. Brandon gives a fair-enough account. He’s no SuBo but he holds his line and it’s smooth. We variously join him but he doesn’t need it. The song ends and before you’d imagine KK is on. He reads out the telephone numbers for the Samaritans and the LGBT Helpline and I do not know what register of reality we are on, but we are. Brandon leaves the stage and comes back to a half-full/empty pint glass that he’d left on the table where Harry and I are standing without me noticing before. I tell Brandon that he sang beautifully and that it wasn’t suicidal at all. Brandon rolls his eyes and drinks and goes off.
Time passes. A vaguely bedraggled trannie in her 60s arrives to It’s Raining Men, polyester, throws some moves on the way to her seat like a pro, neat tight sharp small uplifts of the arms, hup-hah, kind of. Within 15mins she’s having her photo taken with students who were out the back smoking until now. They’re all over the dancefloor like the kids at the end of Der Rosenkavalier accosting Baron Ochs: ”Papa! Papa! Papa!” only here I wished they wouldn’t because it’s got nothing to do with being human this kind of photograph which should be banned because it IS death. At least those kids who accosted Gregor and I when we were drugged by the mafia in that bar in Odessa actually wanted something real even though they were ten years younger than these ones – drinks, passports, kidneys and they themselves could have been boys or girls and they were selling sex with their friends and we couldn’t feel our legs but we managed still to “run” away… “Papa! Papa! Papa!”… and crawled up what were not the Odessa steps although they were just as many and only round the corner from the real ones and found our senses playing pool in Mick O’Neill’s Irish Pub. Wild dogs, lilac minks from limousines and packs of stray kids: scavenging alike. Happy Days. But I digress…
KK had a rest then started up again. A few numbers in… “OK… time for another depressing song. Brandon please… where’s Brandon…” the opening strains of the song are starting… Brandon, Brandon… we’re thinking, we’re all sort of looking around… is he… smoking?… “Brandon” [hesitantly, to self]… the opening strains repeat… Brandon doesn’t appear. No Brandon. No. Brandon has left the building. The song? The song he would have sung. “Let’s listen to it anyway.”
The Winner Takes It All.
‘Encore une journée divine.’
2 – c.5
I’m going for a CT scan at the Cancer Centre where they are very efficient. I’m there on time as are the two other contenders with their chaperones. I’m the youngest and on my own. We all get called together and it’s follow-my-leader down the corridors. Leading is Marysister, the sister of Mary 1. Mary 2 follows, followed by Maryniece – Mary 2’s her aunt – then me.
Marysister is extraordinarily androgynous like someone out of Chaucer. Flaxen hair bobbed, kind of lank, trousers, all practical and chirping like Tourette’s of forced happiness as shrill as you like. It’s utterly unreal verging on psychopathic. The nurse says “Turn left”, Marysister loves it “Oh yes, yes, left, that’s it, turn left, ok, ok, lovely” and she turns left chirruping. And she’s chirping like this to infect the rest of us and it’s dangerous to rise to this bait. Maryniece does and soon they’re in league about journeys to get here, how everything’s on time, oh yes, very efficient here, always efficient etc. and they’re all pleased and proud at it all. And this continues as we sit in the corridor.
Maryniece is blocking Mary 2, but I can see Mary 1 in profile then Marysister at the end of the row. Poor Mary 1. She’s like benefiting from/the victim of Marysister’s psychopathic chirps and her pain is visible and it’s hard and extreme. Her face is absolutely fixed, half-bowed and her mouth is open. There are hardly any lips and it is hooked up into a totally frozen smile that is no smile at all, cut like a crescent moon and only occasionally might she say “yes” as thinly as you could imagine and not a muscle moves and she is there, frozen and it is like this, this picture of relentlessness. It goes on for this woman.
In a cubicle I get changed into a hospital robe the behind of which of course I can’t do up on my own and normally I wouldn’t care but what with all the Marys I do, so I have my coat over my shoulders like Larry Grayson or Mr Davis and my little socks still on which are bright green and bags banging around my feet and I come out skitting along and Mary 1 and Mary 2 are already trundled off on trailors for canulas. Marysister and Maryniece are now full flowing mainly because Marysister will not give up and then we hear why, which is what Marysister has been wanting to tell us all the time: Mary 1 not only has cancer but she is also suffering from chronic depression. Who knew. And well, then Maryniece says that Mary 2 is only there because her doctor’s receptionist who is a right little upstart rang Mary 2 up and told her she has cancer – Mary 2 lives alone and is in her 80s (Maryniece her 50s or older) – when actually Mary 2 does not have cancer at all, just some polyps on her lungs. I thought wasn’t that a plot in Shameless, but Maryniece got the first train from Kent to Holborn and gave merry hell at the surgery.
There’s more congratulation all round about efficiencies here and then some cussing of the government and what’s to become of this medical neatness and Maryniece says something that just stops us dead. What she says about the government, what she says is: “They have no mandate.” And it is like a radical truth you remember from some time ago when there was politics.
No sooner said than off I have to trot with my bags and my flapping bum and my little socks like a joke tip-tripping to the canula dept. and in it goes and I’m really good when I have a canula in, I can sit there dead still and after ten minutes a kid eating crisps is scrawking down the corridor towards me, his father is out of sight and half shouting but the kid is getting whatever he wants from the crisps and somehow thinks it’s his gaff and the kid gets to where I am and there’s no curtain and there I am, frozen with the canula and he must be thinking I am a statue because he’s looking and he’s looking and stuffing his face with crisps and he says to hid dad “How long does he have to be like that”. I am so not going to smile and indicate that I am not like anything, because frankly I’m thinking that’s all I need and kids are vermin at times like this and he’s uncontrollable this one on crisps and then a nurse comes and the dad doesn’t have a pound coin for the locker and the nurse lends him one easy as anything which is amazing, properly nice and the kid is pressing his cheeks against the glass of the office and they put things into a locker out of sight and I overhear and the whole time I’d thought they were there for the dad, but they’re not, it’s this kid that I couldn’t be with who’s here for an MRI scan.
I’m called into the X-ray room, lie down and give it my all.
I haven’t been to a film screening at the BFI for years. Sold out to the lame, the sick, the half-dead, Rachel and I, we hobble into NFT3 for over 2 hours of some of the most enthralling, stark, spartan and intensive work I’ve seen in a cinema for a long time. Bliss was David Bowie in a television play of Brecht’s Baal and a South Bank special introducing three made-for-TV plays by Beckett. Then something happens. Just as the bonus track starts to play – an additional film of Beckett’s Eh, Joe, which both Rachel and I thought was gilding the lily with its simply unnecessary emotion compared to the stringency and depth of televisual humanity at every single material level it could possibly have been constructed on, in everything that had come before – just as this one starts to play, down the left hand side of the auditorium some of us notice a figure. We see him from the back and it is precisely the figure that we have been watching in Beckett’s Ghost Trio 45mins ago, who does nothing to a window, a door and a platform until they lie and creak and show him nothing more. There is no doubt because this is not an anyone. The figure in the play and in the room has a severely hunched back, the upper part bent almost at right-angles to the rest of his body. His hair is long and white and he is wearing a floor-length coat. We do not see the face of the man in the room and slowly he is walking down the aisle, descending and he emerges into light and submerges into darkness like the characters in …but the clouds… or Come and Go. We want to speak about this, we want to talk to strangers and I make the kind of noise that isn’t a word to acknowledge this and there are shivers running all over me. I can’t remember when I can say the last time was that hairs on my body stood on end but they were, what now I have left of them. I am alive and this is my grave walking over me. The figure is slow and moves forwards like he did on the screen and just before a window appears in Eh, Joe, a final swift wrist of his in the room opens the Fire Escape stage right and: he EXITS. No alarm sounds but big fat round tears fall out of my eyes and onto my cheeks and I let them, plop plop plop. And there they are, and there we are and there I am and dot dot dot and nothing more.