Saturday, November 21, 2009
I had the fortune of a gorgeous day, one passing light rain surrounded by sun and blue skies. Imagining the setting at night makes it all even more impressive a view. First, the HMS Belfast is HUGE. You can hopefully catch some of the scale here by seeing some people on deck from the shore. The HMS Belfast is a retired World War II and Korean War battleship, used now as a museum and occasionally for reenactments.
Nearby Tower Bridge connects me to the north bank where the Tower of London sits, as it has in various forms for almost 1000 years. I took the tour and would so again. The Yeoman Warder who gave our tour was particularly interested in defensive architecture and had an enjoyable enthusiasm for describing the horrid condition of the moat, the tales of prisoners and executions at the Tower, the description of what happened in the dungeons and how some executions up on Tower Hill didn't always go so cleanly. He set a perfect stage for the macabre scene of the marquis's resurrection. The arches here and gargoyles and original Roman walls and banded doors also provided some juicy inspiration.
I ended with a shot of the wall most accessible to the river and the view of the ship from there just to tie it all back together. Enjoy.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Much of it happens before the actors go into rehearsal. The writer, the director, the designers and (hopefully, which is not always the case) the dramaturg, discuss the characters in a different way than the author might. We have to take the author's art of fiction writing and extrapolate that into a totally different format that exists physically outside the imaginations of the audience. We manifest, to the best of our abilities, the author's intentions as we interpret them into a physical presence. I've often felt that New Adaptations don't get the same respect a New Work gets, but they really are different beasts.
When enjoying a good read, like NEVERWHERE, the imagination fills in all sorts of detail thanks to careful and skillful storytelling and the reader's own contribution to making the world feel real. You have your favorite parts of the book because you personalize them, you fill in the detail based on your own experiences, parts speak to you or don't and the book becomes a part of you in some way. Which speaks to taste as well - I've traveled with Roland Deschain on many a commute and I voraciously read Dinah's story but never was able to connect with Lila du Cann, for example. That's me. You may have different hooks into a story, which is why reading is such a special, unique and deeply personal experience.
A few years before I joined the Lifeline Theatre Ensemble, the company producing this theatrical production of NEVERWHERE, they did a new adaptation of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (years before the movie franchise) and experienced a wide range of feedback from deeply passionate fans. "Gimli wields a halberd, not a guisarme. Please change this immediately." is one comment I heard about. Imagine hearing that as a director when your "coffers" are exhausted and safe fight choreography is well established a week before opening!
Here we are also dabbling in fan fiction that has a ravenously passionate following. In distilling the story to a reasonable amount of pages to perform onstage we are bound to disappoint some people. That is an unavoidable casualty of the art. As Stephen King says, to paraphrase, you have to kill your darlings when editing, and editing we must do.
As a director I must coordinate the efforts of all of these collaborators - designers, writer, researcher, actors, puppeteers - to create an approximation of what NEVERWHERE means to me. In the interest of fleshing out my ideas, I engage my collaborators in ongoing dialogue. Feldenkrais practitioners encourage curiosity - Remain Curious - and it is a practice I try to honor, as I find it a fruitful one.
Here then is a snippet of dialogue between me the Director, Rob the Writer, and Maren the Dramaturg about some of the characters of NEVERWHERE. I've edited the conversation a tad, and tagged Rob's responses in blue and Maren's in red. I hope you enjoy this discussion and that it sparks some thoughts of your own. Better to know a fan feels adamantly about something before budget and design is beyond adjustment!
The tunneling in London didn't really begin until the early 19th century, so London Below is a mythical place that had some other existence before it moved into the sewers and tube and shunt tunnels. Some ideas?
Early early early London below and Gog and Magog this makes the references very early since Gog is in the Bible and in the bible it seems to be referring to something old. There are also multiple Gogs in the Bible but I suspect the one referred to since it is paired with Magog places it in Revelation where they are (I think) demons or spirits that are part of an attack against God which fits with Islington. There is also a Gog referred to in Ezekiel but both books are visions and intensely tied to prophesy so they are fairly opaque when you read them
Here is a link to Biblical references from a concordance. I am sure there is more digging I can do on that one. I'll have to see if there are pre-christian references to Gog and Magog or similar names anywhere.
I love the idea of Neverwhere sort of slipping side by side our world overlapping and existing without our knowledge (it is a little like the worlds in Philip Pullman occupying the same space at the same time in a different dimension though not so literal). I have been sort of fixating on the title. Neverwhere. The people who exist in London Below call it London Below. Interestingly they are aware of London Above they simply don't pay it much mind I suppose in the same way we think about the homeless. But neverwhere is everywhere, it is clearly under other cities as well. Neverwhere evokes neverland. Never as though something not only is not but had never been (which is what happens to Richard when people fail to notice him) and where. Where is a question word not a place name or even a place pronoun. It is slippery just like the realm we are entering. (Note: from the unreliable Wikipedia: According to the legendary Historia Regum Britanniae, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, London was founded by Brutus of Troy after he defeated the incumbent giants Gog and Magog and was known as Caer Troia, Troia Nova (Latin for New Troy), which, according to a pseudo-etymology, was corrupted to Trinovantum. Trinovantes were the Iron Age tribe who inhabited the area prior to the Romans. Geoffrey provides prehistoric London with a rich array of legendary kings, such as King Lud ( see also Lludd, from Welsh Mythology ) who, he claims, renamed the town CaerLudein, from which London was derived, and was buried at Ludgate.)
There is also that sort of history of traders/gypsies/vagrants travelling up and down rivers that feels like it might be tied to the sewer folk or the rat speakers since essentially the river became the sewer for London as rivers often do for big cities so that they weren't always sewer people or perhaps sewer people supplant river people in this world.
I've been picking my own brain about our Marquis De Carabas. He's a mysterious figure and one we could make any combination of choices about. Something I'm turned onto right now is that he was a Roman soldier in Londinium at the very beginnings of the city. Gaiman describes his dark black face and I've cast a caucasian actor in the role, but I wonder what a thousand years of bartering immortality for your soul will do to a guy. I also caught at the London Transport Museum that early public transportation were men rowing single skiffs in the Thames before it became too disgusting to get close to. They would sing on the river side about their comfortable, cheap and quick transportation and often, when he had you out in the middle of the river, shiv you and take your wallet and dump you overboard. Sounds like early Marquis to me. I also heard a story during my tour of the Tower of London about a Bishop imprisoned in the tower who had enough money to have a number of casks of wine delivered to him, which he used to host a big party for the tower guards. When the guards passed out, he used the ropes binding the casks together to fashion a 30 foot long rope he usede to climb out the window and escape. Again, very Marquis De Carabas to me.
Here it is in translation http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault04.html and I'll need to go back and look but I think Bruno Bettleheim talks about the Moral ambiguity of the characters in Puss in Boots which might be interesting. Perrault himself was 17th C so that might give some time insight into De Carabas and whether or not his title is one he has found it convenient to assume.
The name was also used as a title for a novel by Sabatini who wrote Scaramouche and Captain Blood
I haven't read it but the Amazon description places it during the French revolution and includes bloody death so that could also be important for the Marquis.
I also didn't find Carabas on any Maps so it seems to be a made up principality but I can look a bit more.
I believe Gaiman has acknowledged that the Marquis de Carabas as a name was taken from Puss in Boots.
I'm keen on the marquis being almost in a way older than some of the older LB peeps. They all seem to share a form of immortality that makes the aging process slower or that at some point in their lives they became immune to the effects of time. Being raised from the dead is a different matter and maybe one that has been employed by them a time or two before but strikes me as a rare and dangerous and special magic. I make a distinction then between "being little affected by time" and "regeneration". Make some sort of sense?
The Earl suffers from onset of dementia. Old Bailey seems rather spry - physically quite strong and agile and mentally a bit softened by age but generally with it. Marquis de Carabas is dark - makes me think of Dorian Grey. Croup and Vandemar seem none the worse for wear for their age, aside from maybe an encroaching obsolescence, Hunter too for that matter. Hammersmith seems demi-god like.
Yes, to me, the marquis and C&V are some of the oldest folks we meet, regardless of their appearance. Maybe even Hunter. And that they're all older than Old Bailey, for sure (he seems, to me, frozen at the age he fell into LB), and the Earl. (Note: Rob, if you could explain this notion about Old Bailey stuck-ed-ness in time in the comments section, I'd be grateful to hear it.)
C&V I have always wondered exactly what they are since they are not human and have been around a very long time. The names are interesting too. Croup I suppose there is the children's respiratory illness of the same name. Vandemar feels vaguely dutch like Vander mar. I think vander is from the and then it would be a province or location but mar feels like the english mar and marring things would fit and I couldn't find any Dutch meanings for mar on line. I love the pairing too. There is something about pairs like this menacing and complimentary to each other.
Hunter feels very ancient- Artemis like but also like those prechristian green men.
The earl is interesting in that he is just the Earl no further patronymic implying perhaps that he is old enough or important enough to just need the one name.
I still need to think more about Old Bailey. I suppose Old indicates he is old. I suppose it is appropriate that that is the British criminal court. It seems to date to about the 1580s but was burned and rebuilt (the building that is). I will think more about the character as I reread.
I remember thinking it was interesting in the TV adaptation that the Marquis de Carabas was killed in a way that had him visually looking like that Davinci illustration of man (sort of on a wheel). I suppose it allowed them to avoid the crucifixion appearance which is heavily laden with symbolism and put him more in that rakish humanist world though I agree he feels older than the Renaissance.
Hammersmith has me recalling something from a linguistics class about ancient place names in a place like England (or elsewhere) how they often referred to some feature of geography or important person so Oxford was a place where oxen could ford the river. Cambridge was Cam's bridge.
Hammer smith feels like the ancient smithy that he is but there are such great mythological smiths like Hephaestus but surely there are Celtic and Norse smiths as well.
It's interesting that you see the Portico clan as Victorian. I always envision them as Renaissance-era. Like Portico was a contemporary (friend?) of Leonardo da Vinci. An inventor not decades before his time, but *centuries*. Mid-millennium steampunk, almost.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
That hallway entrance in the center of the picture is on the Westbound platform of the Monument District and Circle lines. Join me wont you?
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Hi, I am Maren, the dramaturg for Neverwhere and I am delighted to be part of the project and delighted that Paul asked me to post. That’s a lot of delight.
First of all, I enjoy Gaiman because he works in layers and there many resonances to his words and worlds. Neverwhere is like a street map and a tube map and bits of Celtic history, art and modern London all blended in and knit together Gaiman’s own inventiveness and dark whimsy.
So in the spirit of layering, I wanted to add a thought about the use of temple in "temple and arch". The beauty of the phrase is that is has so many meanings and evokes such strong images.
First, just to riff on Paul’s post, England had early pre-Christian temples and the Beast of London seems to harken back to pre-Christian stories like the Fisher King (wounded in the groin by a boar or a beast) and some Welsh mythology. Anyone interested in looking at this early mythology might look at the Welsh classic The Mabinogion, a world in which heroes step in and out of magical other worlds easily. But I digress, London below seems to get the layers of all times in history, they get the detritus of the London, both the pre-Christian, the Christian and the secular. They get their geography and customs from above and below, present and past.
However my thoughts about Temple and Arch were a bit more geographic. Since Gaiman plays with place names in London, I thought of geographic temples when I heard the oath “temple and arch.”
There is a Temple church in London that founded by the Knights Templar. The Templars being that odd hybrid of monastics and warriors made famous during the crusades both for their valor and their secretiveness and from the rumor that they had the shroud Christ was wrapped in after his death. (The Black Friars in Neverwhere seem to be cut from similar cloth.) Temple Church is near the Inns of Court of which there are four: Grays Inn, Lincoln Inn, The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. I am sure I am inadequately representing the history of the British legal system but roughly, they used to be where law students learned the law and now I believe they sort of function like our bar associations now and you belong to one of them if you practice law. Historically, some of Shakespeare's plays were played for these groups who were the new burgeoning class of lawyers who could afford to have the players come there.
Here are links to the church and inner and middle temple. Judging from some of the photos on their very modern websites there are a fair number of arches there as well.
The London Temples are very old institutions and the hierarchies that govern them date back to the age of fiefdoms and guilds, a system still apparently used in London below.
Where the Middle and Inner Temples are now intricately associated with law in London (apart from the Old Bailey itself where cases are tried) Temple might also have a legal connotation.
Thinking about temples as a geographic feature of London made me think about arches in London geography of which there seem to be many. There are a few arches that might be of interest: The Marble Arch across from the speaker's corner in Hyde Park in London, (there is a marble arch tube station), Wellington Arch also in Hyde Park and of course Admiralty Arch near Trafalgar Square. But then there are many arches in London. Below is Admiralty Arch in picture taken by my husband when we were in London over a year ago.
The interesting thing about an Arch as a geographic memorial, you go through them like a door but not into a building, you see through them and around them, but they still function architecturally even if they are not part of a building. They change the thing you see through them and frame it. But as you can see I am prone to digression and I have already digressed far enough I just wanted to peel a few more layers of the onion.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Here are two slideshows of pictures of two well known churches.
The first is of St. Paul's (Old Bailey's favorite site), one of the tallest buildings in the City. It stands as a sentinel, with its iconic dome and central location in the square mile known as the City of London. There is something incredibly gratifying about finding it randomly as you scan the rooftops of London; a landmark that immediately orients you to where you stand, where North, South, East and West is, where to find the Thames, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London. It is also a beautiful site on its own.
This second series was taken on a side trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is of the 13th century church where Shakespeare is allegedly buried, Holy Trinity Church. While the actual exhibition space of Shakespeare's grave was closed for renovation, I took a myriad of pictures of the mossy gravestones, flora and finials, beautiful and frightening gargoyles, stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings and carved wooden pews. The iconography of angels are everywhere. There's a red winged angel in one of the windows that made me wonder.
Wrapped into the functional brick and tile of the London underground is great reference to the Temples and Arches of England's architectural identity. With timeless characters populating our story, we could make reference to the Temple and Arch of their roots and beliefs somehow. Not to mention Bridges. And Doors. More of those to come...
Meanwhile, let me introduce the illustrious Maren Robinson, our dramturg. She will have many a thing or two more to add here, so I've asked her to feel free to contribute. She's already sent me some thoughts of greater depth on the relationship of the word Temple to London's identity. Instead of crudely regurgitating her thoughts, I'll let her speak for herself.
"Richard had taken the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and was now walking west down Oxford Street, holding the piece of paper. Oxford Street was the retail hub of London, and even now the sidewalks were packed with shoppers and tourists…."
Absolutely. My first impression upon stepping up from the Tube station was how many thousands of people were packing the streets. I'm not inexperienced with crowds of people in public - I live not far from Wrigleyville in Chicago. Michigan Ave and the so-called Miracle Mile aren't the least intimidating. This is exponentially different. The streets and sidewalks are narrow and irregular, poking around each other in curves and jots. Buses and cabs, mopeds and brave cyclists slalom around pedestrians who are jostling for purchase. The sidewalk has a tide to it, keep up with the rhythm or move off to the side.
"He turned into Hanway Street. Although he had only taken a few steps from the well-lit bustle of Oxford Street, he might have been in another city: Hanway Street was empty, forsaken; a narrow, dark road, little more than an alleyway, filled with gloomy record shops and closed restaurants, the only light spilling out from the secretive drinking clubs on the upper floors of buildings. He walked along it, feeling apprehensive."
That shift is absolutely correct. Two steps off Oxford onto Hanway, suddenly I feel exposed and alone. There may have been a person here and a couple there but the extremity of solitude after riding the wave of the teeming urban parade is almost shocking.
"He did not remember an Orme Passage… as far as Richard could remember, Hanway Place was a dead end… He had been wrong. There was an Orme Passage…"
Well, I look around. I turn thrice widdershins. No luck. No Orme. Gaiman does write fiction after all.
Here's our main character, regular guy Richard. A bit in a rut. A bit disorganized. Rather average. Lives comfortably enough but has no investment in fashion, style or status. Not much personality to him. His fiance Jessica is trying to groom him but that's her ambition, not his. He goes along with what life presents him, a Taoist undercurrent of going with the flow of life and letting it carry him along. Ho hum.
Then he finds himself picking up a visibly injured homeless girl off the street and carrying her to his flat. Some sense of humanity lies deep under his shabby old sweater and he becomes something, not quite as grand as a Champion of Justice, but suddenly we realize he is a Good Man at Heart, maybe even Brave. Definitely maintaining his impulsive flow-going, he's also sensitive, and the immediate commitment to action to try and "rescue" this young woman feels foolish yet Right. By leaving Jessica and skipping out on their date, despite her enraged threats shouted down the street, Richard makes a choice that no matter how improbable it is that he will benefit from this act, it is something he Must Do.
Thus he approaches the instructions (delivered by a Rat, with help from a Pigeon none-the-less) to meet up with the Marquis on the girl, Door's, behalf, with the same vague sense that despite the improbability of the whole thing, he Must go through with it, maybe even to just test his own resolve. Facing the population of London and wandering around a back alley must feel incredibly stupid and embarrassing, but he goes through with it. Hidden within, like Orme (More?) Passage, he has a hero blooming. Believing deep behind that old shabby sweater that he Must Do Something, for Good, for Balance, for the Right.
And simply because he was asked to. How could he say no?