Can gloom be a guilty pleasure?

19Feb09

Yay for the Young Vic! Earlier this week to King Lear with Pete Postlethwaite. It was a daunting load for a Monday night: three and three-quarter hours of Shakespeare seemed like such a good idea three weeks ago when I booked it. Despite completing an Eng lit degree, I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve never seen or read Lear. It was too big, too scary and too strange.

But I was wrong – this production is great. There was a lot more plot than I’d expected and it felt a bit like very posh panto. A brace of vile sisters even nastier than Lady Macbeth (Boo! Hiss!), an illegitimate son mired in bastardy in every sense, a brilliant fool (Forbes Masson with a swoonsome counter-tenor voice) and a handsome not-quite prince (Toby Menzies shirtless for much of the time). But I also knew to expect much gore, so while Gloucester’s eyeballs were being gouged out and the audience made weird groaning noises, I was bravely staring at my knees.

It was good to be taken out of my own not-very-happy thoughts. There have been large layoffs at work and therefore large changes. This isn’t the first time I’ve been through such upheavals – I work in print journalism, after all – but it’s difficult to explain how distressing it is, and how low your batteries get. On the other hand, it’s ugly to complain; woe is not me, I have a job, for Gods’ sake. But it’s hard to rebuild energy and enthusiasm among people who have been badly frightened and are now grieving for lost colleagues and lost camaraderie. With half our number gone (yes, half), we’re a different shape and we all have to relate to each other differently. People I’d never really talked to are now my next of kin.

The emotional arc of surviving planned redundancies: dismay, fear, gallows humour, relief/guilt, back to fear again (how will we manage?), tentative humour, mutual irritation (I am trying, so why don’t you sod off), fatalistic resolve (we’ll do our best and see if we’re next). It’s a lot of gear changes in a very short time, that’s all. Then I remind myself I’m not Jade Goody and feel guilty all over again.

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