The Trilogy

A response by Maddy Costa

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but these will be Michael Pinchbeck’s final performances on stage. Should you choose to believe him. After all, he’s said the same words in every performance of The End since it began, in 2010. Each ending has been an ellipsis: dot dot dot. And a beginning: literally, The Beginning grew in 2012 from The End. What comes next?

Time doesn’t pass, my friend Selina tells me, it accumulates: accretions of experience that the body carries within. She travels the sea and we think of time as fluid, unpredictable. Linear time is a construction, John Berger writes in And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, that ignores its duality: time of the body and time of the consciousness; time that passes and time that turns on itself like a wheel. Cyclical time contains new beginnings, new possibilities, in each ending.

Final words in the mouth of the speaker, held in a memory long after they’re gone.

It’s two and a half years now since I saw the whole Trilogy, in a tucked-away theatre in London, and I sift through the accumulations of performances since for glimpses of what I remember. A spaciousness, note cards, humour and frustration; a bicycle, a bear suit, the songs of Serge Gainsbourg. Bubble wrap and an electric guitar. More than images, a set of feelings: admiration, emotion, surprise.

I meet up with Michael at another tucked-away theatre in London and he gives me the texts of the Trilogy in a neat plastic folder. I sit beside a river to read them and I’m surprised again by the intricacy of their construction. Their accumulation of beginnings, middles and ends: the beginning of love, first steps on a stage, the time of hovering betwixt youth and age, the end of a journey, the final drift from consciousness.

What looks like juxtaposition – Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Histoire de Melody Nelson; Hamlet and a holiday in Malta; the bear of The Winter’s Tale and a firing squad – becomes synthesis. “The notion of a uniform time,” Berger writes, “within which all events can be temporally related, depends on the synthesising capacity of a mind.”

The Trilogy was shaped as the practice element of Michael’s PhD exploring the role of the dramaturg. It’s how I first encountered him, searching the internet for something that might help me understand what that word means. My friend Duska says that “as a dramaturg I am looking for one core idea around which the various themes of the piece can be seen to hang”. That one core idea is surface throughout the Trilogy, themes not so much hanging from as flowing through it.

The river and time move on, inexorably forward, in cycles. Michael says once again those words about no longer performing. And stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but this evening won’t finish when you walk from the theatre. It began when you first started thinking about the Trilogy, and it won’t end until you…