Bizarrely (or maybe appropriately?) to Milton Keynes last night, to see the Sean Mathias/Ian McKellen/Patrick Stewart Godot. I’d misread the train timetable, and got there much too early, and, having never been in central Milton Keynes before, was naively under the impression I could wander about the centre of town, and have a drink before the performance. I took a cab from the railway station, through endless roundabouts, with large shiny vaguely commercial-looking buildings, set well back in huge car-parks on either side, which I assumed would give way to a city centre – I’d been told I needed the ‘Theatre District’. Reader, the centre of Milton Keynes is a giant, gridded, roofed-in shopping mall. There are no streets. The ‘Theatre District’ is a giant shiny single metallic building with forlorn-looking branches of Bella Pasta and TGI Fridays hanging out their signs at intervals. There is no there there. I ended up whimpering, walking the identical tiled corridors of the mall, watching generica close up for the night – a seemingly endless parade of M and S, HMV, Pizza Hut, Boots’, Fat Face, Superdrug, McDonalds… I ended up buying a hat, less because I needed a hat than because there wasn’t anything else to do, or because of some existential chill. The centre of a city had become nothing but an opportunity to buy things. No squares or odd little corners, no places for people to live or congregate, no old buildings, no blue plaques, no unexpected twists or turns, no streets, just these bright, chilly, identical mezzanines with people roaming.
By the time the play started I was so bleak that Waiting for Godot, a play I could almost recite along with the actors, seemed like the warmest and most life-affirming of experiences. It was, it has to be said, a rather cosy production, on a set that suggested a bombed-out theatre, with comic ‘boinnnnggg’ sound effects and an affectionate Didi and Gogo as a pair of old hoofers liable to break into vaudevillean song-and-dance numbers at the drop of a hat. Waiting for Luvvies. Ronald Pickup the best Lucky I’ve ever seen, though, genuinely disquieting. Milton Keynes was much bleaker than a play Adorno regarded as an icon of art after Auschwitz. I ran for my cab the second the curtain came down, and the chatty driver was amused at my ill-concealed unease, pointing out the new indoor ski slope, and a huge Indian restaurant with a heli-pad, which apparently is patronised by Prince Andrew, God help us.
I made it back to my grubby corner of north London (which looks rather wonderful currently, with daffodils among the blowing chip papers) after a brief, rather frightening wait on the MK station platform, watching a freight train roar past, loaded with dozens of identical white vans, and the light in a single window, high up in an office block, flicker on and off.
But I. is back from the Middle East tonight, and all else is as nothing...