Of Chalk and Cheese…

IBSENToday is the birthday of the ‘father of realism’ playwright Henrik Ibsen.  I feel like I’ve always known Ibsen, I can’t pinpoint the first time, or the exact moment. I can’t even really remember what plays of his I’ve just read and which I’ve seen on stage. For a realist his influence on me has, it seems, been decidedly fuzzy.

I know I saw Ghosts at the National Theatre in 1992 and enjoyed it.  I’m not sure I totally got the whole syphilis subtext at the time. In fact I’m sure that I never got most of Ibsen’s subtexts first time round. I know I’ve read A Doll’s House and been completely unimpressed. And then read it and been really impressed. I know I’ve read the An Enemy of the People and wanted to stick pins in my eyes. And read it and found it extremely profound. I honestly can’t remember what I think about Hedda Gabbler, but find myself unwilling to re-read it now to come up with a conclusion for a blog post!

I can’t help but compare Ibsen with Chekhov and I have to say I like Chekhov more. Which is not Ibsen’s fault I suppose. But maybe, I should have taken this on board and realised much earlier on that ‘realist’ theatre was really NOT for me.  It took many years for this to dawn on me. Too many years for me to take my dramatic urges out of the theatre.


If Ibsen is the Chalk in this post then the Cheese is my husband George, whose birthday it also is today. (He’s not nearly as old as Ibsen of course!)  And here’s a funny thing. George has an almost pathological hatred (I’d call it fear, but it’s his birthday so I must be nice!) of the theatre. To my knowledge he hasn’t been more than five times but the only one of those experiences he actually claims to have enjoyed was my play ‘Love is an Urban Myth’  He may not be afraid of Virginia Woolf but he is very very afraid of Bertolt Brecht. It wasn’t the best choice for a first theatrical experience I’ll grant you and it happened ‘before my time,’ back in the 70’s.  Before my time also were the couple of musical/comedy things he endured.  But I have to take responsibility for forcing him to sit through a Cuban puppet show which, retrospectively must have looked a bit like puppets doing Brecht in Spanish! Mea culpa. I’ve never seen anyone actually sweat just watching a puppet show.

Of course Ibsen is the famous one of today’s birthday boys, but not the most influential for me by any means. Unlike Ibsen, I remember exactly the moment I first met George. I was thirteen. It was love at first sight. For me at least. He was a married teacher and I was just another problem child who had been given a sword to wave around in the belief that teaching  me a disciplined way to control anger would help me to turn out all right in the end.  I don’t think anyone expected the end of that story, some thirty years (and an ex husband and wife later) would be ‘reader I married him’ but that’s the very long story cut short.

marriedWe’ve been married now for seven years. When I discovered the pathological fear/hate of the theatre I acted as any good wife would and forswore the theatre.  Well if you don’t count the fact that I asked him to step in and play three parts in an advocacy drama at the Scottish Parliament at the last minute when a cast member dropped out!  This is the give and take of happily married life. He did that for me, and me, I switched my creative allegiance from drama to fiction.  Now that makes me sound a bit more angelic than I really am. There is no element of the ‘I could have been a contender’ in that, yeah right!’most influential for me by any means.

Actually I feel I should I say that it was George who freed me from the theatre. Not totally from drama but certainly from the theatre. And if you’ve been reading any of the previous posts on writers birthdays you’ll have got the picture of my ‘journey’ through the theatre reasonably clear in your mind so there’s no need to go over it again now.

Great love hath no man than to be photographed in the school library reading his wife's book!

Great love hath no man than to be photographed in the school library reading his wife’s book!

Suffice it to say that when health concerns dictated (as they have done in the last few years) that I really cannot take any active part in drama in either a theatre or an advocacy setting, I was able to seamlessly reinvent myself and move on painlessly to fiction due to George’s unfailing support of my creative endeavour. I needed to get out of the theatre. I needed to be able to leave it behind and move on, and whereas I didn’t learn my lesson from Ibsen that ‘this sort of thing’ was not for me, it’s a lesson I learned from George. Even though it wasn’t something he thought he was teaching me. That, my friends is what I believe true love really is.

What about ‘Love is an Urban Myth?’ It’s being published next week as part of Triptych, 10 years after its last performance.  It’s a play which is still very close to my heart and I suppose I could sell it on the basis that if ‘even George likes it’ then it must have something going for it!  I’m no Ibsen. But I am a realist. Just not in the theatre any more.  I’ve learned two valuable lessons in life. One is about letting go and the other is about holding on. And the real insight is knowing when to do which!


About callyphillips

One Response to Of Chalk and Cheese…

  1. Jan Needle says:

    good one, cally. and wasn’t it strindberg who described ibsen as ‘that norwegian bluestocking’? mark you, when shaw went all the way to sweden to interview strindberg, strindberg, after a while, drew out his pocket watch and said: ‘you must leave now, mr shaw. in fifteen minutes time i will be sick.’ shaw told the story himself!

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