I moved house this week and started a new job the week before that, so this is a short, cheating kind of Book Diary post. Mostly because it doesn´t involve a book. On Thursday I went to the ´theatre´, but that is also cheating as it wasn´t the theatre, it was the cinema. The National Theatre Live has come all the way to Madrid! ¡Vaya!
The production was Of Mice and Men and it was my first introduction to Steinbeck. I didn´t know what to expect, as I didn´t know anything about Steinbeck. What I did know was that this particular version had Chris O´Dowd in and this was a selling point for me. He played the part of Lennie and it was unfortunate that I love The IT Crowd so much because it was hard to quit thoughts of Roy from my head, which is all me and nothing to do with the acting, as he is an excellent actor. When the actors took their bows at the end, O´Dowd and James Franco – the other lead actor – had tears in their eyes, so powerful was the writing and the performances.
There were also tears in my group: I went with two Spanish friends and they were moist-eyed when the lights went up. By way of apology (the outing had been my idea), I joked that Anglophones love misery and although it was a joke, it got me thinking about how true that actually feels. Last year, I went to see Nick Cave´s biopic, 20,000 Days on Earth and at the point when I saw it I hadn´t been back to the UK for six months and was feeling pretty immersed in life in Madrid. I had forgotten that we are different, I had forgotten what life was like in the UK and it really struck me just how much we are thrilled by misery. Watching Nick Cave, and now Steinbeck, I felt a curious mixture of pride and relief. The pride was for the art that comes from this angst, this misery: the books, the music, the visual art. That is something that makes me proud and thankful. That art is essential, in my opinion, and to me. The relief came from the fact that I don´t have to live within it anymore, or live it full stop. I think it is corrosive to a flourishing life.
Clearly this is a very polarised and simplified view of both life inside the UK and outside, but it remains true – I believe – that sometimes you have to get outside of yourself – exit your world and look back – to really know what you are about. It is also a kind of paradox because if I posit that the fruit of this angst is essential for us to live better and know ourselves better, to elevate us and to develop us, then I must allow it to thrive. I suppose I want the best of both; the result but not the process. The best of all worlds, I guess. The director of this production of Of Mice and Men – Anna D. Shapiro – said in a short documentary during the interval that the play contains all the misery and difficulty of human existence, but all the answers too. There is desperation and cruelty, but also love and hope. Maybe that is the lesson I need to learn.