Nonsense & NF Simpson

To leap from Alfred Jarry straight through to NF Simpson in the late 50s is to leave a lot out in terms of nonsense theatre otherwise known as the theatre of the absurd and possibly other sub-categories. But when you’re writing you can jump around in time and so I do. Because in the late 60s Simpson was my introduction to that sort of thing. My brother was keen on drama and he had some of his plays which I read. Part of the powerful pull they had on me then is obviously to do with the fact that these plays had been a very strong influence on a lot of the popular innovative comedy of the mid to late 60s, in particular the work of Peter Cook and then later Monty Python.

Simpson claimed that he didn’t know much about the work of earlier dramatists such as Ionesco and I can believe him. He mentioned Lewis Carroll as more of an influence. The plays haven’t aged too well in that the humour now seems dated. They created an effect which was of the moment and somehow was an opening which allowed something new to emerge.

The usual premise of a Simpson play is to use a banal everyday setting, a suburban middle-class home or an office, and people these with unexceptional individuals whose dialogue is at times a series of inane non-sequiturs. In The Hole a man-hole on the edge of a street or pavement is used as a central point which draws a small crowd of onlookers. There is a solitary messianic character, The Visionary; 3 men whose dialogue is somewhat more rational and 2 housewives (Mrs Meso & Mrs Ecto) who are a bit of a Greek chorus though most of their exchanges are off the point, endlessly discussing their husbands’ whims. Eventually a workman emerges from the hole. He immediately disappears, his only words being,

Cables! Junction box! Electricity! You never had any of this ruddy caper back in the Ice Age

The fantastic imaginative arabesques of the 3 men are dashed against reality.

SOMA: And this word “junction box”. Does it mean anything? Or is it just a new name for something we’ve been looking at all along?

CERBERO: It does have a meaning – a very definite meaning. Though it doesn’t make a great deal of difference to what’s down there, whether you call it by that name or another one. We call it a junction box because that happens to be a useful and convenient term for it – but any other name would do almost equally well. We know quite a lot about it, too. We know what its function is and we know what would be the immediate and the long-term effects of removing it. We could fairly easily – if you particularly asked us to do so – find out who put the junction box here and when. We can tell at roughly what date the modifications incorporated in this type were adopted as standard, and we can tell you to what extent they represent an improvement on the old type.

At the centre of the play a creed is recited by the 3 men in unison. I think it fits well with some of the Nonsense excerpts I have included in earlier posts. See the links at the end for the details of these.

I believe in one aquarium which was and is and shall be; in which shall be comprehended the sprat and the Black Widow; in it the sole and the carp shall swim together, the swordtail and water-flea; with the gudgeon shall float the mackerel, with the roach the guppy; duckweed shall be there, and foaming moss; neither shall the water at seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit be at variance with the water at forty degrees Fahrenheit, or eschew it. And the freshwater shall be salt and the saltwater fresh, and no distinction shall be made between them, for all are of one aquarium and there is no other aquarium, but this.

Edward Lear
Nursery Rhymes
Lewis Carroll
Erich Kästner
Alfred Jarry
Edward Gorey

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  1. Pingback: Reading list | firegiver

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