Saturday 13 March 2010

Calling up our Giants - Dianne Hofmeyr

Horatius was never my hero. Give me Lars Porsena any day. Low exposure to Roman history as a child might’ve been to blame. I was too busy with Zulu wars, Chaka, Dingaan and the battle of Isandlwana. Roman history only emerged years later when I was studying Latin.

I loved the idea of Lars Porsena so much that I can still quote the opening verses without stumbling. It wasn’t who or what he was that appealed, it was the sheer joy of invoking Macaulay’s words… shame on the false Etruscan who lingers in his home when Porsena of Clusium is on the march fro Rome. What was an Etruscan? And who or what was Tarquin? And where was Clusium? I absolutely didn’t care. Magical too were Ocnus of Falerii, Lausulus of Urgo, Aruns of Volsinium and Lord of Luna… never mind that they all died. They were my invocation of power. I shouted the words at the ceiling from my bed, in front of the mirror, brandished them at the trees with my stick-sword whipping through the air and whispered them into the grass until my sisters were sick of me.

Last week I went to see the play, Jerusalem, with the mesmeric award-winning performance by Mark Rylance playing Johnny (Rooster) Byron, a drug-dealing hell-raiser who lives in a forest in Wiltshire. There are a few more weeks left of its run at the Apollo, London, so I won’t spoil it by saying too much. But he tells a story of meeting a giant on the motorway when staggering home one night and relates it with such conviction, even his doubting listeners are reluctant to bang the drum that he says will awaken the giants and bring them from the four corners of the earth. I think it was The Guardian newspaper that said: he tells stories with the touch of an enchanter… someone who sees everyone but seems to be looking only at you. Life is conjured so vividly that wafts of wild garlic seem real.

At the end with only him and his young son who has crept back on stage, he invokes his brothers, every Byron who has ever lived, and all the giants of this earth, Magog, Og, Anak, Havelock, Beowulf, Goram… (I wish I could remember the litany) He shouts their names and drums incessantly louder and louder… a giant of a man infusing his son with bravery. (Brave too the young boy actor who has to witness such an invocation!) I couldn’t move. I was totally gripped… spellbound.

It made me think about my own struggle with words in telling a story and whether the words we choose to give children are invocations? In our stories are we daring children to be brave? Are our words rousing up their inner giants? Do we stir up giants like Macaulay did with me with Lars Porsena… not just by action but by the sheer enchantment and power of the words


Andrew Strong said...

What a wonderful, rousing post! I saw Rylance in Richard the Second at the Globe. He is, indeed, spellbinding, and, I think, one of our greatest actors. I hear the sound of giants' boots tramping through your blog, and was reminded of reading Robert Graves' "The White Goddess" - Graves, the naughty enchanter, creates a mythological history of Wales, and summons giants, like Bendigeidfran, the crow god Bran, who stands over Wales like one of our mountains, bellowing into the wind. Lovely stuff.

Penny Dolan said...

Fantastic post, Diane, and an enticing description of a perfomance. (Now when am I next in London???) There's something in what I believe is called "heightened language" that does rouse the spirit, something in the way the sounds of words and rhythms work on the ear and mind, even if such stomping stuff is now laden with semi-imperialist shadows. I think this is why - despite bursts of overblown verse - some of the poems of Yeats still move me to tears. Maybe it's the Celtic voice? Or is it words that are written to be spoken aloud, not skimmed on the page?

Mary Hoffman said...

I saw it at the Rpyal Court where you get the full text as your programme. I recommend buying the playscript for the sake of that litany.

I think everyone in theatre thought the sounds at the end were the giants approaching even though it could have been the bulldozers.

Such is the power of Mark Rylance's performance.

Katherine Langrish said...

Wow! Sounds fantastic - wish I could get down to see it, but doubt if I can. You are right. Incantations are important. And I love Lars Porsena. Oh, and 'The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold...'

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Sorry replying late... Mothers Day! I wonder if we remember 'the heightened'lines of poetry from childhood so vividly because when we first heard them, we were fresh and unjaded. As writers I know we're meant to keep up the childlike freshness but jaded creeps up very fast!!! Odd you should mention Robert Graves, Andrew... (I haven't read the White Goddess and now I must) but a moment ago I came across a podcast from LSE (London School of Economics) where AS Byatt, Fiona Simpson, Colin Thubron and Ben Okri were talking about 'love'... yes odd subject for the LSE but it was their Literary Festival... and Byatt was quoting Graves. Okri was particularly wonderful.
And yes Mary I'm sorry I missed Jerusalem at the Royal Court. I woke up to it too late and you're right, I need the script because all I could remember was Magog and I think I rather imagined some of the names rather than truly heard them. But phew! the play left me breathless!

michelle lovric said...

Ah, you can't get Jerusalem tickets for love or money. We've tried both! Rylance should be bottled. He'd be good for everything that ails us. Speaking of which, what an absolutely beautiful photograph! And a wonderful post, too.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks Michelle... thats my granddaughter Amelia, taken on Christmas day the year before last (in a warm climate!)I thought your advice to Anne to take up a pen and draw is a perfect option. It's a chance to focus on something else... even if its just the pattern inside a cut pomegranate!