Today my friend, the ever perceptive Natalie d’Arbeloff, left a question at the Artlog that has left me undergoing some serious thinking. So in the spirit of candour and sharing that Natalie and I subscribe to in our blogs, here’s a public response to what I very nearly answered privately. Thank you Natalie for putting a question that needed to be asked.
Natalie d’Arbeloff wrote:
‘Clive, having followed the fascinating saga of the creation of this performance from the start, in the wonderfully illustrated way you have shared it, I’m wondering now how you’re going to be able to get back to the loneliness of painting, after the satisfaction and excitment of harmonious collaboration with such a talented team and all the variety of tasks involved. I know that you chose to leave behind your theatrical skills for the quasi-monastic life of an easel painter, but did this new excursion into multi-media theatre make you feel that you might want to do more of it?’
Clive Hicks-Jenkins replied:
Natalie, I put my first career behind me way-back-when, and I did so in a mood of despondency at the way it had been unfolding for the longest time. The theatre is a demanding world, and one that I’d thoroughly explored in the twenty-odd years I worked in it. I’d been a choreographer, a director and a designer, and I’d enjoyed success in all three fields. When the right jobs came along then I was sublimely happy, but it became increasingly apparent that the achievements I was proud of were far outweighed by work-a-day jobs I’d taken to pay my bills and stay afloat. The experience had left me feeling emptied of ambition and with my enthusiasms fatally compromised. Nevertheless, cutting myself free was very hard, and it took a certain ruthlessness. Adrift though unrepentant after I’d made the decision, I determinedly burned all bridges behind me. I fled to Wales, took refuge at Tretower and didn’t set foot in a theatre, not even as a member of an audience, for over a decade. Along this path to another life, I met Peter. With his encouragement I began to paint. In time I came to believe that I should have been a painter from the start, though I’ve since moderated that view. I see now that without the career I had before I came to the easel, I wouldn’t be myself, and wouldn’t be the painter I became.
To return to your question: You ask whether the Mare’s Tale experience has left me wanting to do more. The project was unusual inasmuch that it was a bespoke fit for me, an exploration of a theme in which so much of my past work has been bedded. I saw the development of TMT into a chamber-work for ensemble as less a return to the theatre, than a continuation of what I do in the studio. If the piece is to have the future MWCO and I envisioned for it when we set out on the adventure, then I want to be a part of that. However, the plans for a tour being some way off in 2015, right now I need to get back to the easel.
In 2014 I have a one-man exhibition for Martin Tinney at the Tegfryn Gallery. After that I’m collaborating with Philippa Robbins on what’s planned as an ‘immersive’ exhibition, in which my contribution will be an installation involving video material and puppet performance. (Another chance to work with Pete Telfer, who was cameraman on both The Soldier’s Tale and The Mare’s Tale.) Clearly the latter project will once more take me away from the easel and into a collaborative environment more akin to the theatre.
This year my projects with MWCO at the Hay Festival and Theatr Brycheiniog saw me fall in love all over again with everything that had captured my heart when I was a teenager. One has to be careful of that kind of thing, because it can be deceptive. On the first day of rehearsal for The Mare’s Tale I was full of trepidation, and even fear. But once I was waist-deep in the process, I just plunged in and swam like a dolphin. It was a real pleasure, and I felt utterly at ease. The twenty-five year gap had done no harm, and had probably made a better director of me. Certainly a more reflective one. I said back when I started the Mare’s Tale adventure in February, that I’d suck it and see. Well it must be said, it’s been a wonderful experience. Now I miss my brave, shining boys and girls more than I can say. They were so dedicated to the project, giving their utmost throughout. I couldn’t have asked more of them, and I miss being surrounded by their passion and energy.
Although the libretto of The Mare’s Tale is a fiction, Damian Walford Davies borrowed its central episode of a recovered memory from my account of what happened to my father at the end of his life. When Morgan Seyes is entangled in the bed sheet he’s mistaken for the Mari’s shroud, his words are the ones my father cried out in exactly the same circumstances. Eric Roberts doesn’t look like Trevor, not in the slightest way. But in that single performance at Brecon, as he dragged the suffocating cloth from his silently screaming face, for a moment the resemblance was uncanny, and it was as though the image had been plucked from my memory and projected into the darkness. I’d never directly represented the episode in any of the Mare’s Tales drawings of 2001/2, but at Theatr Brycheiniog where it was harnessed to Mark Bowden’s haunting music, the moment made my knees buckle.
For now, I think I shall cease blogging about The Mare’s Tale at the Artlog. I’ve probably written too much on the subject. With the experience behind me, I feel the sadness that inevitably overwhelms when a collaborative project draws to a close. So from tomorrow, Artloggers will find new things afoot here. My thanks to you all for your patience and interest.
Left to right: me, actor Eric Roberts, violinist Rakhi Singh, viola player Tom Hankey and clarinetist Katherine Spooner.