This article is taken from the October 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
Theatre-goers bidden to attend one of Lucien Grote’s sparse, elliptical productions usually assume that their creator is indebted to Samuel Beckett. In fact, this judgment would be a mistake. If interviewed about his work, Lucien is usually keen to disparage the author of Waiting for Godot’s influence. Beckett, he recently informed the Avant Drama website, is “essentially a bourgeois individualist”, much too “angled towards the devitalising mainstream”, whose plays are, in addition “absurdly cluttered” and, worse, “rather noisy”.
No such complaints could ever be raised by Lucien’s slim though undoubtedly compelling oeuvre. The devitalising commercial mainstream has never troubled him, and as he put it in the same online interview, his real interest is “stasis”. Zero Hours Contract, his last full-length piece, began with five minutes’ uninterrupted silence after which a stuffed pigeon hooked to a line of fuse wire could be seen flapping across the set, which consisted of an abandoned warehouse.
In his rosier moments he can even envision a volume in the Cambridge History of Drama series
Reckoned by the Observer to be “an immensely powerful deconstruction of contemporary hegemony”, Zero Hours Contract is the latest instalment in a career that goes back nearly forty years. As “Luke Anstruther-Grotherton” (his baptismal name), Lucien made his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in the early ‘80s with Halibut Dreams, staged inside a water-tank, with characters dressed in wet suits and communicating by walkie-talkie.
On the strength of this, he was commissioned to script a series of short films for the newly-fledged Channel Four, one of which, Carcass (about a butcher who falls ecstatically in love with a dead sheep) was criticised in a parliamentary debate by several Conservative MPs.
All that was nearly 35 years ago. How has Lucien been faring since? Happily, the realm of modern drama has many mansions and there is still an outhouse or two capable of affording shelter to the author of A-Z, one of his more challenging pieces in which half-a-dozen characters named after letters of the Greek alphabet sit declaiming London street-names at each other, thought by the Guardian to “turn our concept of spatiality on its head.”
In his mid-sixties now, with a great deal of badly-trimmed grey-white hair that might be thought to make him resemble the Almighty in Blake’s designs for Job, Lucien veers between lamenting modern theatre’s disdain for “truly serious work” and suspecting that it all could have gone a great deal worse. In his rosier moments he can even envision a volume in the Cambridge History of Drama series entitled Artaud: Pinter: Grote — An Eternal Golden Braid.
In the meantime, there is a sequel to Fenland Bus Stop (the “arid particularities” of whose first tranche were described by the New Statesman as “not wholly un-nutritious to the discerning palate”) to be getting on with — an innocent vocation which it would be unworthy to deny.
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