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Jennifer B.
Major in Theatre, Scriptwriting, Directing and Performance
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Shakespeare
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Question:

How does David Greig employ dialogue in A Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman he Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union to portray the deterioration of relationships and the prevention of relationships from being developed?

Jennifer B.
Answer:

A predominant theme within David Greig’s A Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman he Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union (A Cosmonaut’s Last Message), is the lack of communication and ineffective dialogue experienced by many characters within the play. The play potentially implies it is only when characters relax are they able to find happiness and use dialogue proficiently. The play may also be indicative of there being many contributory factors resulting in this lack of communication, factors that are frequently out of the characters’ hands. The factors most noteworthy in this play are technology and globalisation, the latter being a feature of many of David Greig’s plays. In spite of advantages, these factors arguably skew dialogue, something Greig exploits. As the characters struggle to express themselves clearly and decode what is meant behind dialogue, relationships may become damaged or prevented from being developed. Frequently within A Cosmonaut’s Last Message, futile dialogue and subsequently deterioration of relationships is as a result of characters trying almost too hard to communicate. ‘Phatic speech’ is frequently enjoyed, according to David Edgar in How Plays Work, ‘phatic speech’ being ‘saying things not to communicate meaning but [to] keep the conversation going’ (Edgar 2009, p. 155). The dialogue between Keith and Vivienne can be a prime example of this: VIVIENNE. We could have a drink. Have we got some? Something… some… KEITH. Do you want a drink? VIVIENNE. Maybe… but if you’re not. I won’t. KEITH. Go ahead. I don’t mind. VIVIENNE. No. KEITH. Should we switch the television off? VIVIENNE. Leave it. We’ll see if something happens? (Greig 2002, p. 212) Of course, this scene could be viewed as an example of one of numerous performance choices directors and actors could make. Vivienne may be visibly anxious during this conversation wanting to clutch on to the wavering connection that is her marriage to Keith. This in itself could be a performance choice, deciding the level of anxiety and tension. Alternatively, Vivienne could be visibly bored in this scene, employing ‘phatic speech’. Nevertheless, possibly either of these performance choices still maintains the notion of a wooden, meaningless conversation. Steve Waters in Studying Plays, explains it is typical for participants of a conversation to take turns and ‘what they say invites a response’ (Waters 2010, p. 48). Vivienne and Keith’s conversation on the other hand, lacks this ability to create a response, and thus, through Greig’s use of dialogue, an audience may see the wearing of their relationship. Arguably, if the characters within A Cosmonaut’s Last Message learnt to relax they could converse more efficiently, as shown by some of the conversations held by Vivienne and Bernard as the play progresses: [VIVIENNE and BERNARD] laugh a little bit. Relax BERNARD. You’re smiling. That’s good. VIVIENNE. The wind in the tree. Here I am in France. Still alive. Long live France! The wind in the tree. Here I am in France. Still alive. Long live France! BERNARD. Long live France! VIVIENNE. Love live France! BERNARD. You look happy. (Greig 2002, p. 289) This interaction between Vivienne and Bernard is a great example of how once characters lose their inhibitions, they can use dialogue effectively and advance relationships. Despite the language gap between Bernard and Vivienne (Bernard being French, Vivienne being Scottish), Bernard and Vivienne are eventually able to create successful dialogue in which they understand each other, Vivienne visibly happy. This is opposed to Greig’s use of ineffective dialogue such as ‘phatic speech’ between Keith and Vivienne, whose stilted, uninviting dialogue is detrimental to their relationship. A potential reason as to why many characters within A Cosmonaut’s Last Message are ineffectual in their dialogue, is they are almost afraid of communication. For instance, contrast is created by a conversation between Claire and Vivienne, Claire appearing self-assured in her dialogue whilst Vivienne shies away and maintains her blunt, short responses: CLAIRE. What do you do, Viv? VIVIENNE. I’m a speech therapist. CLAIRE. The things you can do. One can do. You’ll have to tell me about it sometime. VIVIENNE. It’s not terribly interesting, I’m afraid. CLAIRE. Oh no, Viv. It is. Everything’s interesting if you’re interested in people. That’s why I joined the police force. It’s a people job. Like yours probably. VIVIENNE. I help people who can’t communicate. For medical reasons. CLAIRE. Viv. Do you mind? It’s boiling, isn’t it. Sweltering. I’m going to put the kettle on and boil us up a cup of refreshing herbal tea. VIVIENNE. I don’t know if I – CLAIRE. Really it’s just the chat, isn’t it? Girls together. Talking about little ones. I bet you’ve got some stories. Would you mind just finishing this off for me, Viv? I’ll only be a tic. (Greig 2002, p. 234) For Vivienne, Claire is overstaying her welcome. Throughout this scene she is overwhelming Vivienne with information, having large amounts of dialogue whilst Vivienne continues with her frank and self – deprecating responses. Within a performance, it is a choice as to what level of uncomfortableness Vivienne portrays. She may be visibly annoyed at Claire’s incessant talking or just shows some reservations at Claire’s presence in her garden. Certainly, within the text it could be reasoned it is as if Vivienne has grown used to a life of ineffective dialogue, and so does not want this conversation with Claire. This can be supported by Clare Wallace in The Theatre of David Greig. She believes Vivienne is fearful of the perceived dangerous world outside the comfort of the living room. Her ‘communication lines are not working and to venture outside [her] capsule… might be fatal’ (Wallace 2013, p. 116). This secluded world is invaded by Claire’s superfluous dialogue. Overall, this scene can demonstrate how many characters within A Cosmonaut’s Last Message are afraid of communication, to a point where they don’t know how to employ dialogue effectively. A way Greig achieves this is through contrast, showing characters who are comfortable to explicitly speak next to characters who speak candidly, little and through metaphor. As such, they diminish the value of their relationships and thwart potential relationships from being built, as they are unable to eloquently express themselves through dialogue. An aspect of the play which may contribute to this failure to talk effectively and create solid relationships may be the presence of technology. In spite of all the technological advances in the world which can allow people to communicate at anytime, anywhere, it could be considered technology can also have a detrimental effect on interpersonal communication. For instance, Oleg, one of the two stranded Soviet cosmonaut’s within the play, is desperate to send ‘a message to Adrianna’ (Greig 2002, p. 275), a women he once spent an ideal weekend with, but is unable to contact her because the communication system on the capsule is unreliable. His dialogue is awkward, unable to ‘remember her second name’ (Greig 2002, p. 275). Wallace supports this, stating there is an ‘insufficiency of language to express his feelings, underscored by the doubt the message will ever reach its destination’ (Wallace, p. 119). His dialogue and relationship with Adrianna is effected as a result of technology. Similarly, Vivienne comes to the realisation technology has probably been a contributory factor to her discontent and dented relationship with Keith. Subsequently, she wishes to ‘get rid of [the television]…. All that pornography. [She would] rather read.’ (Greig 2002, p. 215). Here, Vivienne is recognising the adverse effects technology may have on interpersonal communication and face to face dialogue. It is an acknowledgement of how people can have too many distractions as a result and fail to live in reality. This notion is supported by a wealth of research from across the globe including Paul Booth, PhD, of the College of Communication at DePaul University. Booth states ‘There has been a shift in the way we communicate’, ‘we’d rather text than talk on the phone’. ‘So while we’re communicating more, we may not necessarily be building relationships as strongly.’ (Booth, cited in Keller, 2013). Without face to face dialogue, people are unable to gauge what is truly meant behind dialogue as they often cannot see body language and hear tone of voice (Mehrabian 1971, p. 44). Thus, technology may be detrimental to relationships and the development of relationships as often, dialogue is deceptive and fails to portray how people really feel. Globalisation, similarly to technology, can result in ineffective dialogue and therefore have an undesirable effect on relationships. Globalisation is a major theme within A Cosmonaut’s Last Message and many of David Greig’s other works, as dramatist and academic Dan Rebelleto informs in the introduction of Plays: 1 by Grieg. According to Rebelleto, Greig is ‘conscious… [of] the immense changes being wrought across the world by globalisation’ (Greig 2002, p. xii). Globalisation is portrayed in this play frequently through dialogue. This voicing of opinions may be seen as ‘a character [being] the author’s mouthpiece’, known as sententiae (Wallis and Shepherd 1998, p. 46). Bernard is a prime example of Greig’s use of sententiae, appearing disgusted at the fact ‘The Americans want to write the world ‘Pepsi’ in space’ (Greig 2002, p. 243). The level of disgust is of course of performance choice, considered in the context of the performance as a whole, whether the director wants of positive or negative depiction of globalisation. The ‘Pepsi’ advertisement is quite a simple, yet effective idea, as most people will understand it is to advertise the drink Pepsi. Considering this, potentially, not only does Greig use character’s dialogue to act as his mouthpiece, but he may also be evoking the idea people are losing the ability to read past superficial and ambiguous dialogue. People may be becoming so used to bold and obvious statements that occur frequently in advertisement they cannot easily read metaphor and messages behind more implicit things, namely dialogue. Much like technology, globalisation could be seen as a factor leading to ineffective communication. People may merely be relying only on words to gauge a person’s feelings or opinions, and disregarding more important signs such as body language and tone of voice which will give a more accurate insight. As such, it may lead to damaged relationships and relationships unable to be developed as people do not truly understand each other. In conclusion, a major theme within Greig’s A Cosmonaut’s Last Message is lack of communication, with characters struggling to express their feelings in dialogue clearly. This play, through characters such as Vivienne, demonstrates many people may strain in order to communicate. They may even be afraid of deep conversation, leading to stilted, cold dialogue. It seems only when characters relax are they able to use dialogue effectively, shown particularly through the relationship between Vivienne and Bernard. Frequently, the reasons characters try too hard to communicate or are afraid to communicate face to face is because they are battling against factors out of their hands, predominantly technology and globalisation. Technology, in spite of its numerous advantages may be a hindrance as it can be quite temperamental, with no guarantee a message will actually reach its destination (as illustrated by Oleg’s final message). Moreover, it may prevent people from reading past dialogue and what is truly meant. This can also be the case for globalisation. Both technology and globalisation may lead to people growing used to only noticing the obvious, forgetting vital communication tools such as tone of voice and body language, metaphors and signals. Subsequently, within David Greig’s A Cosmonaut’s Last Message, through lack of communication and ineffective dialogue, relationships are damaged and other relationships unable to develop. Bibliography Edgar, David (2009). How Plays Work. London: Nick Hern Books. Greig, David (2002). Plays: 1. London: Methuen. Keller, Maura (2013) Social Media and Interpersonal Communication. Social Work Today. Last updated: May 2013. Available at http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/051313p10.shtml. Accessed 01 December 2015. Mehrabian, Albert (1971). Silent Messages. Belmont: Wadsworth. Wallace, Clare (2013). The Theatre of David Greig. London: Bloomsbury. Wallis, Mick and Shepherd, Simon (1998). Studying Plays. London: Arnold. Waters, Steve (2010). The Secret Life of Plays. London: Nick Hern Books.

Literature
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Question:

Consider how Lady Macbeth has been portrayed in adaptations of Macbeth regarding the instigation of Duncan’s murder?

Jennifer B.
Answer:

A contentious issue when reading and staging an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is how aggressive or otherwise Lady Macbeth is regarding Duncan’s murder, and the motivations behind the murder. Arguments vary including that of Lady Macbeth is very much the instigator of his murder, for reasons of sadism and want of supremacy, the witches are the instigators and Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are merely tools in their prophecies, or that Macbeth is in fact the instigator of the murder. I am of the opinion the first argument, Lady Macbeth being the instigator of the murder for reasons of power is the strongest interpretation. I believe much of the text of Macbeth lends itself to this interpretation of Lady Macbeth being the dominant one in her and Macbeth’s relationship and thus is the instigator in’p;l Duncan’s murder. She is, after all, the one who formulates the plan and is insistent the murder will take place despite Macbeth’s reservations. Outraged by Macbeth’s reservations, she exclaims ‘durst do it then you were a man’ (1.7.49). Through this it could be implied Lady Macbeth is certainly the instigator in Duncan’s murder and most wants his murder for reasons of supremacy. Arguably she is using female manipulation to achieve power. She manipulates her husband outstandingly efficiently, by calling Macbeth a coward and questioning his masculinity, suggesting if he fails to murder Duncan his masculinity will be stripped away. Early tradition sees the witches as comical with additions to the text emphasising dancing and singing and flying. This put the focus on Lady Macbeth as the instigator of violence and regicide. Furthermore, this interpretation is certainly supported by Sarah Siddons’ portrayal of Lady Macbeth c. 1790 – 1810. Siddons makes the decision to overpower Macbeth. This certainly worked in John Philip Kemble’s favour who was playing Macbeth. She turns Macbeth to her project, guides him and inspires the entire plot. For this reason I am strongly in favour of the argument Lady Macbeth is the aggressor in Duncan’s murder and portrayals demonstrate as such.

Film and Theater
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Question:

How does Chekhov's use of the exercise 'Imaginary Bodies' allow the performer to create a character in a creative and playful manner?

Jennifer B.
Answer:

Chekhov’s ‘Imaginary Bodies’, in which performers are encouraged to discover their character’s centre and the quality of the centre, provides creativity and imagination in creating a character. It also equips the performer with emotions, movements and gestures that are consistent with the character. Within a rehearsal context, this exercise asks the performer ‘leading questions’ about their character to gain more information about their personality. The performer can decide on the character’s centre (where in their body they are being led, e.g. stomach, chin, forehead), and attribute qualities to this centre, such as a hard, soft, squishy etc. quality (Chamberlain 2004, p. 140). Eventually, this exercise will aid the performer in taping into the character and will create a distinguishable difference between the character and performer. Different scenarios with different emotions, movement and gestures will be negotiated with ease. Actor and director Lenard Petit states in The Michael Chekhov Handbook, the purpose of this exercise is to transport the performer away from themselves, transforming ‘psychology with … imagination’.(Petit 2009, p. 94). To find which centres and qualities are most appropriate for a character, performers should be able to explore and be open – minded with their findings. Many practitioners and theatre academics certainly believe the use of play, creativity and reverting to childhood is essential in performance, as supported by Lorna Marshall in The Body Speaks. She states whilst many training styles require discipline and discomfort, ‘pleasure is a necessary performing skill’ (Marshall 2008, p. 121). Chekhov is associated with this notion of creativity. Time should be set aside to explore the character’s centre and quality, using imagination and play to change features of the character. Nevertheless, a disadvantage of this exercise may be it provides so many interpretation which the rational part of the performer’s brain can justify, known as ‘the little intellect’ by Chekhov, the performer may find it hard to pick just one interpretation (Petit 2009 p.97) . The performer needs to have the confidence and creativity to be able to step inside the character and explore the variety of opportunities and interpretations the exercise offers, yet can choose which is best for them and their character. In conclusion, Chekhov’s ‘Imaginary Bodies’ exercise provides opportunities for performers to develop a character in detail, being able to gauge emotions, personality, movement and gesture through tapping into the character and attributing the centre and quality to the character. It may be helpful to a performer as it provides a variety of opportunities and interpretations which can be explored, using imagination which many theatre practitioners believe to be a vital performance skill. Probably most crucially to Chekhov, the exercise can transform a performer, creating a discernible difference between them and the character. Bibliography Franc, Chamberlain (2004). Michael Chekhov. London: Routledge. Marshall, Lorna (2008). The Body Speaks. London: Methuen Drama. Petit, Lenard (2009). The Michael Chekhov Handbook: For the Actor. London: Routledge.

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