On Endings

Image: Julian Hughes

On Endings
(After Michael Pinchbeck’s ‘The End’, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham 2010)

In art, as in life, nothing is truly finished. Something appears to have come to an end – a book, a play, a sculpture, a life – only to linger on in echoes and afterthoughts and corrections. And, of course, in memory. The play finishes, the audience applaud, the house-lights go up, the actors go home. But the next day the actors come back and do it all over again, while the audience carry something of the performance with them into their following days.

But I’m being evasive; works of art do, of course, have designated endings. The reader finds out who done it, the actor removes his face-paint, the projectionist puts away the last reel. And however much the creator of an artwork might want her piece to resonate in the core of the audience’s very being, there still needs to be a moment which is called, simply, The End.

In my own writing, I’ve often had difficulty knowing when I’ve come to the end of the process. The only time I know a story is truly finished is when I’ve crossed everything out. Otherwise, it becomes a case of having the thing wrenched out of my hands and put into the hands of the audience, for them to do with as they will. Which is not the end of the process at all, in fact. It’s more like the beginning.

The End is Michael Pinchbeck’s last performance, and Ollie Smith’s first. And Michael’s exit from the stage serves as the starting point for this show, which explores ideas of entrances and exits, beginnings and ends, ruptures and closures; and, of course, that most famous of theatrical departures – “exit, pursued by a bear.” As is often the case with Michael’s work, the show is openly concerned with the process of its own creation and performance, and the way in which that process began and can never quite be accepted as ending. At times, the confusion between what Michael and Ollie wanted to do, and are doing, and will do, is reminiscent of the moebius-strip logic of Billy Bragg singing, “I was 21 years when I wrote this song, I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long.” But of course, as the older Michael keeps reminding the younger Ollie, none of us are 21 or 22 for long. And so as this performance, with its bear costumes, gun-shots, last words, and repeated cries that they “didn’t imagine it to end this way,” draws to an elliptical end, we see the older performer drift toward the exit, pursued and usurped by the bear of his young apprentice.

But is this really the end of Michael Pinchbeck’s performance career? I’m not convinced. His work to date – The Long & Winding Road, The Post Show Party Show, Sit With Me For A Moment – has played brilliantly with audience expectations, not least of what a performance can or should actually be. I suspect, once the showing of The End has been completed, that Mr Pinchbeck will realise he’s not quite done with us yet.

Jon McGregor
23 December 2010


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