Stoppard is well known and well respected for his many plays, including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Real Inspector Hound. (When I was at drama school, I was always hoping we’d get to perform The Real Inspector Hound as I had a great desire to play the part of Moon, the second-rate theatre critic. Alas, it didn’t happen. 🙁 ) He’s also done a fair bit of script-writing— Shakespeare in Love, Empire of the Sun and Enigma immediately spring to mind. He has also written one novel, a black comedy called Lord Malquist and Mr Moon, which I’ve not read. In fact, I didn’t even know about it until just before going to the show, when I Wikipedia-ed Mr Stoppard.
He was interviewed by Alison Croggon, a local writer and critic, who did quite a good job… although she did seem a little disconcerted by his ability to answer more than just the question put to him and she referred to her notes a little too often. Stoppard was an interesting speaker, talking about his past, his writing and his relationship with actors and directors. His story of how he came to work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was particularly amusing. Apparently, when Sean Connery was cast, he insisted that the producers hire Stoppard to re-write his dialogue. And then, when Harrison Ford found out about it, he demanded that Stoppard also re-write his dialogue as well.
Fifteen minutes from the end, questions from the audience were taken. This proved to be a mistake, with numerous long-winded questions traversing ground already covered.
Then everyone was herded out of the auditorium. Those who had bought tickets for Neil Gaiman as well, got to remain in the stuffy and fairly small inner foyer. Due to the fact that it was general seating, we all wanted to stay close to the doors to make sure we got good seats. Thankfully, we got a little bit of an impromptu performance while waiting. Gaiman’s wife, singer Amanda Palmer, appeared out of nowhere, climbed up onto the bar and performed “Ukulele Anthem”. This was so cool! I’ve never really taken that much notice of Amanda Palmer before… in fact, I couldn’t name a single song. But after this superb little performance I’m gonna seek out some of her stuff.
The Athenaeum staff then sneakily opened the doors while Amanda sung, thus avoiding a crushing surge… well, at least until she finished her song. Thanks to the kindness of friends, who dashed in and secured seats, I had a front row view… right up Mr Gaiman’s nose. 😉
Gaiman was, as always, polished, interesting and utterly brilliant. (Yes, I’ve heard him speak before.) He has this amazing ability to deliver thoughtful, considered answers with an easy, off-the-cuff manner. He was interviewed by Melbourne writer/critic, Clem Bastow, whose style was laid back and conversational and perfectly in tune with Gaiman. It was working really well, until… after fifteen minutes, she announced they would take questions from the audience. [insert gasp of horror] I was fearing a recurrence of what happened with Stoppard, but Gaiman wisely defined for the audience, exactly what a question was, and how it should be delivered with brevity. The definition was greeted with much applause and relief… and it worked! People got to the point and asked short, interesting questions to which Gaiman gave long, interesting answers.
During his talk, Gaiman announced that early next year he would begin writing a sequel to American Gods. This seemed to get a lot of people rather excited. He also talked a bit about what it was like writing an episode of Doctor Who, and he finished up by reading his Australia Day poem (which he had previously read at the Opera House gig he did with his wife).
Since I was reading Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book on the train that day, and I had it in my bag, I thought I’d stand in line and get him to autograph it after the show. But I was in the front row, so I was one of the last to get out of the theatre and by then the line stretched the length of the foyer, out the door and down the street. So I changed my mind… after all, I already have his autograph in other books. 🙂
All up it was a fantastic night. We are very lucky to have the Wheeler Centre here in Melbourne to organise things like this. The only negative thing was the fact that the event had general seating, resulting in long queues and people jostling for seats. Numbered seating would have been a much more civilised option.
I forgot to take my camera with me on the night, but many others were snapping away. Many thanks to Paula McGrath for letting me use her pics on this blog post.
Catch ya later, George
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