Father and son and Joseph Chaikin
Shepard’s early plays, Tarlton remarks, are “extraordinary and some of them are quite insane. He doesn’t seem constrained by logic, and he’ll often pursue a visual metaphor. You also get these sudden transformations of character. The Holy Ghostly combines the best of his dialogue writing with that wonderful wild side. It’s his ghost story, about a father and son in the desert trying to destroy the ghost of this Navajo demon. It’s short and sharp and really funny. There’s such an energy to it, and you can feel Shepard’s joy in discovering his craft in this early work.
“So much of his writing is informed by the relationship between father and son. The stories are autobiographical in some sense. However, it’s very easy but also very dangerous to read them all as autobiography. Even the most autobiographical ones are filtered through fiction somehow.”
Another important ghostly and fatherly presence in the Roadshow is that of the actor/director Joseph Chaikin, Shepard’s mentor and collaborator on The War in Heaven. This poetic monologue was in development when Chaikin suffered a major stroke and, afterwards, “became the means by which he reconstructed his ability to speak and to use language” says Usher, who directed Chaikin in the UK première of the piece in 1987.
“There was something about Chaikin’s acting that was different from anything I’d seen before,” the director recalls with palpable emotion. “It was almost Gnostic: he seemed to be in touch with forces larger than the individual self. It felt like he touched the inside with every word.
“The beautiful thing is that Chaikin was at his strongest in Beckett and had this close, intense relationship with Beckett, professionally and personally. And The War in Heaven is Chaikin’s gift back to Beckett, in a way. It’s a monologue that contains many voices, in which you get the inside and the outside of the person simultaneously. It’s a beautiful work and something I really wanted to revisit.” Chaikin died in 2003, but CHORALE audiences can experience his performances through the screenings of Clarke’s films of Savage/Love and Tongues which will be included in the Roadshow and explored in the workshops.
“We want CHORALE to be as multi-disciplinary as possible,” Tarlton affirms. “And we don’t want it to be a passive experience for the audience. We hope that people will experience a whole range of things, and that we’ll be able to present a huge range of Shepard’s writing, and Joe Chaikin’s work, and see how it can transcend genre and even form. And because it’s a double-bill, where we do two nights or more, people can come and see one set of shows one night and then experience something completely different the next.
“We’re also doing work with Connect, the charity supporting people who are living with aphasia, because of the connection with Chaikin. We hope to do workshops focusing on aphasia and communication, as well as a fundraiser night for the charity at the Bussey Building.”
With the possibility of an extended autumn and winter tour being discussed, do Tarlton and Usher see the Roadshow as something that will continue to evolve and develop and transform as it progresses?
“We hope so,” Usher says. “With Presence, we want to think about working long-term and really developing stuff. A problem with theatre in this country is that everything’s so short-term. Things aren’t always developed to anything like the potential they could be. That’s because of the whole way the business works. But there’s so much more that you can do.
"So the concept of a Roadshow does suggest longevity. And also the possibility of absorbing all kinds of related particles as well, which might be Shepard-related or Chaikin-related or Herons!-related.”
“It could well be that it gradually evolves into something different,” Tarlton agrees. “We’ll discover out on the road.”