Theatre review: Decade

This 9/11 drama neglects the non-western perspective.

In the States 911 is, of course, the number you dial in an emergency. Ironies like this one bubble and cluster in Decade, the theatrical response to the 9/11 anniversary: the "Never Forget" souvenir pins that are "end of line"; the prickly British Muslim who explains "Islam means peace: what the fuck you looking at?"

Decade is the product of 20 or so writers from widely different backgrounds, including Abi Morgan (of The Hour), Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and everyone's favourite history don, Simon Schama. Under the steerage of Rupert Goold of Headlong Theatre, the show is a sequence of playlets that unravels in a mock-up of the Windows on The World Restaurant (107th Floor, North Tower), complete with sunny views of Manhattan.

We enter the restaurant-space (which is actually in London's St Katharine's Dock) after a passable imitation of real-life Homeland Security airport checks. The commercial location is more than a little antiseptic in nature, and the actors are forced to work hard for cohesion. Action takes place around (and on) the tables on the restaurant floor, but also behind the glass of a mezzanine level, which chillingly serves as airport walkway, hospital corridor and, of course, prime office space. At one point the performers, in their unexceptional business suits, are trapped, panicking, behind these upper windows. We know that, like Snow White in her glass coffin, they are as good as dead.

Such emotive moments, however, are metered out carefully. Adam Cork's beefy soundtrack similarly resists opening up the throttle of affect and effect. Decade refuses a master-narrative, and instead we are given episodes, or epiphanies, on a whole range of incidental characters and situations, ranging geographically from Guantanamo to Karachi, from waitresses to rhetoricians (both Bush and Bin Laden's speeches are reproduced).

We're shown the office-worker, half in love with the WTC "altar", and still dealing with the shock of watching his office turn to dust like a "sandcastle". The delicately faultless Tobias Menzies manages to look as though he might just crack up like the towers himself. There are the widows' annual commemorative get-togethers, including Charlotte Randle's marvellously brittle Brooklyn termagant who's a fan of Sarah Palin ("she's an idiot but, man, can she wear red"). The widows' scenes are interwoven throughout the night and move backwards through time, to, as it were, the prelapsarian state.

And there are the chancers, the fakers, and the whole industry surrounding the Ground Zero site, part hallowed ground, part real estate. One of the most engaging cameos is the Panamanian who works at the gift shop. He wasn't allowed to be a tour guide, like others with a more legitimate personal involvement, as at the time of the attacks he'd been playing Runescape, "then jerking off". He sleeps with some of his vulnerable customers, but they in turn never come back. He's taken to slipping the "Never Forget" pins in their pockets.

Many of the characters struggle with the collision of the personal with the symbolic, and of memory with history. "I don't want to know what I stand for," says one. Another complains bitterly that 11 September "was my birthday before it became this global tragedy".

The scenes are connected with dance sequences, not all of which comfortably emanate from the moment, but which at their best are stupendous. As Bush makes his "either you are with us or against us" speech, the American people seem literally to mobilise, armed with their cell phones and their newspapers. The flight attendants' safety instruction routine is codified, to a magisterial Rossini soundtrack, into an increasingly frantic and desperate ballet.

Visual leitmotifs also serve to connect the fragments: the characters sport a layer of dust on their shoulders - a sort of deadly dandruff - one woman's eczema makes her flake before our eyes; there is even dust in the Yemeni shopkeeper's milk carton. Rupert Goold shows us fear in a handful of dust.

The material varies considerably, with the verbatim quilted in alongside the scripted. There's even a mini-lecture on Thomas Jefferson and Miltonic ideals, courtesy of the don. Adam Cork and Alecky Blythe's fingerprints were surely all over the searing fugue made up of 9/11 text messages. But elsewhere the red pen could have, should have, been used to axe scenes. The babel of voices may feel appropriate, but too many writers, I suspect, have been indulged in the process. And Decade, though a circumspect, deeply imaginative response, is an entirely occidental one.

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Why Prince’s wife ate other people’s room service (and other Paisley Park tales)

She couldn’t afford to order her own on the $300 a week he was paying her.

 I’m on the phone to Prince’s first wife and I’m trying to picture the wrestling. He had a very strong upper body, Mayte Garcia says brightly – but she had very powerful legs.

“When he knocked me down, I would take my legs around his body and squeeze really hard. So he stopped tackling me down to the floor.” She doesn’t know why they wrestled – couples do weird things, don’t they? Like the hypnosis. In her new book, she says she loved the hypnosis because it was the only time he’d let her talk without interrupting her.

Garcia could not have imagined at 16 – shortly before her parents gave Prince legal guardianship over her, and three years before he put her on birth control – that they would scale such philosophical heights together: the Third Eye, the migration of souls. Seventeen years after their marriage ended, she still sometimes hears the click click click of his spurs down the hall.

What was in Prince’s bathroom? Oil of Olay, fancy soaps and distinctly feminine perfumes. His kitchen? Tostitos, teas by Celestial Seasonings, and honey that comes in those little plastic bears.

They met after her “Puerto Rican supermom” insisted that Garcia get a videotape of herself bellydancing to him backstage. Her note said, PS: I am 16 years old.

During their getting-to-know you sessions, he liked to get a bowl of popcorn and tip a whole bag of Goobers (chocolate peanuts) into it. Once Garcia had joined the New Power Generation as his dancer, her relationship with food became less enjoyable. She couldn’t go to the gym because she was indoors most of the day waiting for his phone calls (Prince’s girlfriends didn’t have his number) – so, in order to keep her dancer’s body, she would eat salad standing up, while he ate fettuccine Alfredo.

She took leftover bread and Thousand Island dressing from other people’s room service trolleys in hotel corridors, because she couldn’t afford to order her own on the $300 a week he was paying her.

Then one day, he saw her standing next to a bowl of whipped cream; so he docked her wages. “He could be mean,” she writes. “But it made him human, and he seemed to like and respect me more when I checked him on it.”

Prince rarely touched people (germs), so when you saw him shaking another girl’s hand you knew you were on the way out. He wrote “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” for Garcia but she knows three other women who think it’s about them. She says she wants every girl to think it’s about them. She quotes Michelle Obama: “When they go low, I go high.” She calls him her dear friend.

The couple broke up a while after their child died. Prince didn’t allow an amniocentesis test and the baby was born severely disabled. Garcia says they decided together to let him die. He invited Oprah into their house and showed her the nursery, as though the baby was alive. Mayte was taken from the bed where she slept with his ashes, made up, put on camera and told not to mention the nasty business.

“Oprah was planned months ahead of time,” she tells me now, breezily. “He had this album coming out. He was like, ‘It’s Oprah.’ I’m like, ‘I get it!’”

There’s the facts, and then there’s the way she chooses to talk about them. Who is to say how you should deal with memories of years of abuse?

“People say that forgiving is my flaw, but I really believe that holding grudges and anger is a waste of energy,” she says. “We are all going to die. We are all evolving, trying to become better people, so let it go.”

Prince died a year ago. With The Passing, as she calls it, her desire to write a book increased. “I wanted to honour him,” she tells me. “He was a great friend. He listened, he cared, and he always treated me like a princess. Yes, he was a tyrant. We all knew that.”

I ask her what she would do if she could have him back for one night. She says she’d tackle him again. She misses the popcorn. “They don’t make Goobers any more.” 

“The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince” by Mayte Garcia is published by Trapeze
 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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