The Last Days of Mankind

Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies, with character Alice Schalek in the background
(Three actors playing single role together)
Photo: Chris Scott

Armistice Day of 2018 saw the world premiere of a major adaptation of Karl Kraus’ ‘unperformable’ play The Last Days of Mankind, featuring the Olivier-winning The Tiger Lillies. John Paul McGroarty and Yuri Birte Anderson directed this powerful satire about WWI, much of which was written in Viennese cafes at the time of the conflict.

At Leith Theatre, I joined casts from seven different countries which had been on different sides of the First World War. Now – 100 years later – artists from these allied and opposed lands united to work on creating an immense piece of theatre about the horrors of that war using Kraus’ words, dark humour and song.

Fine guests act out atrocities of war – I chose to be hanged!
(Actors from various different countries collaborating on one scene)
Photo: Douglas Robertson

This was truly epic theatre, as borne out by reviews (four and five stars) and reactions, some of which you can read here. People returned a number of times to see it, at least one audience member letting me know they had come up from England twice!

This was all wonderful acclamation for the companies involved in the project, which were Leith Theatre (Scotland), Theaterlabor (Germany), Teatr A Part (Poland), Plavo Pozoriste (Serbia), Association Arsène (France), Smashing Times (Ireland) and Kultura Medialna (Ukraine). England, Austria and Hungary were also represented by actors involved.

We all played a number of roles, but my main one was that of Alice Schalek, the only female war correspondent with the Austro-Hungarian War Press Office. There were three of us, always appearing together, who played this role – just one of the exciting approaches to the play which arose from the work of the different companies and styles brought together.

The three Schaleks (L to R: Danielle Farrow, Alina Tinnefeld, Sophia McLean)
with just one of the incredible backdrop projections of visual designer Mark Holthusen
Photo: Douglas Robertson

I also had lines at the very end of this production’s script, spoken by one simply known as ‘Mother’. While lines from a show normally leave my head once I’ve left the production, on this occasion those last words stayed with me – a haunting testimony to their strength and the honour I felt in saying them.

Never, through all the days that you disgrace, will you avert your eyes from this dead face!

And may, when you have ended your descent to hell, this image greet you there as well.

May the splinters of this little one’s skull penetrate your brain and soul!

Long may you live and may you be terrorised through all your nights by this mother’s cries!

The Last Days of Mankind by Karl Kraus, translated by Patrick Healy

A powerful anti-war play, indeed.

Mother has cursed
Cast from seven different theatre companies gathered to end the play with a haunting song
Photo: Douglas Robertson

A few responses to the production…

“spectacular… a series of stunning images to illustrate the text… a mighty theatrical feat” The Herald – Neil Cooper

“a thrilling sense of occasion and momentum… a biting, superbly-performed score… huge, brilliantly-blended visual images of the war” The Scotsman – Joyce McMillan

“a musical and artistic triumph… Hard hitting and impactful… several scenes brought a lump to the throat and the last 20 minutes of the play are worth the ticket price alone” Commonspace – Professor John Davis

“powerful anti-war play… stroke of genius… superb cast… highly relevant” Edinburgh Guide – Irene Brown

More reviews, images + responses here, including comments of:
“astounding” “brilliant” “passionate” “amazing” “stunning” “incredible” “fantastic” “moving” “epic”

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Bodily Fluids – January 2018

January was full of the best and worst of life!

I had two great acting projects with very talented and lovely people:

Acting Project 1 A new writing play, ‘Vaults’ by Jonathan Whiteside, already performed to delighted audiences as part of the Edinburgh Horror Festival in October 2017 (where people responded with the hoped for cries of both shock and laughter), and now touring to Dumfries and Galloway. I played the leader of a ghost hunting expedition with a twist – a great twist, and a great role!

Concerned Professor, Vaults
An audience member told me I was older in character, but then younger for the bow…

Bow, Vaults
Looking at pictures afterwards, I could actually see what was meant!

Acting Project 2 An excerpt of another new writing play also previously performed, but new for me. This was ‘Orlando’, adapted from Virginia Woolf‘s intriguing novel by Emily Ingram for Some Kind of Theatre. I worked on the role of Writer, a Woolf type figure, and research was also interesting for this – I looked forward to more, should another production take place after we performed the extract at the Formation Festival in February.

At home, though, there was much cleaning of bodily fluids from carpet, bed, toilet, hall, etc. which culminated in my mother being taken to hospital, where visits continued for some time before care resumed at home again later in the month.

I have been a carer off and on since I was a child, but for mental health issues. As a member of various care groups (including a co-founding member and committee member of Empathy in Mind), I have heard a lot about what people have to do to look after their loved ones. Being used to aspects of mental health caring, I am often in awe of how others manage with physical ailments. Now I had to step up to the plate here myself (with help from my brother).

Once again, life showed the human capacity to do what is required of us, and that assistance from others is very much to be sought as well as appreciated. In fact, from my experience, any ongoing ‘doing what is required’ does actually require help from others – else you can wind up as I did, back in 2015, having to take time out for a while simply to be able to function on the most basic level.

For anyone in an unpaid caring role, I urge you to find out what is available in your area if you have yet to do so. For Edinburgh, check out the Carer Programme at the Eric Liddell Centre, VOCAL and Care for Carers as a start – there is more available and these groups can signpost as well as help in their own ways.

Meeting with friends was also important and wonderful, keeping me smiling and capable, and then the importance of a great cast and production team was amply demonstrated when I briefly took ill myself…

I had a migraine for the first night of Vaults. This involved stopping the car repeatedly en route to the venue so I could be sick – more of those bodily fluids! – and finding a place for me to lie down while others did all the work of set up and preparation. Huge thanks to everyone involved in providing for me and looking after me!

And yes, I was able to perform – that old miracle Dr Theatre! Vomiting recommenced after the show, but at least it waited until we’d returned to our digs.

Shakespeare in January: Modern First Folio Edition play-reading of The Tempest, with director John Paul McGroarty joining us (and drawing Prospero in the cast lottery) – lots of interesting chat after, including re. Simon Russell Beale’s recent portrayal; actor Eliza Langland held a ‘Shakespeare Party’, which I reached in the snow on coming back from Dumfries and Galloway. We looked at scenes from ‘Macbeth’, swapping roles around. There was much hilarity, as well as Mackers and cue script exploring, and, of course, cake!

Note to self: I love working with others on ideas and development, and thoroughly enjoyed time spent with a friend looking at goals for 2018, using Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever course / book. That said, when it comes to focusing fully on such a project, I need my own space and time, in a concentrated block, in order to really benefit and move forward with this kind of work.

Coming up next month: Orlando showing, horror and more Mackers!