He said I’m the wrong shape. I could do with putting on a few pounds and, almost as an after thought he said, you’ll have to cut your hair – yourself. I know she was an artist, and a mother, and a gardener. I had to admit to him I didn’t know any painters. My cousin Julie’s a sculptor – same thing he said – but I had to tell him I hadn’t yet looked at her painting, only what he showed us in his presentation. He then told me exactly where in the National Museum of Wales I could see one of her paintings – Gallery 14 – and its from this period, a Parisiene picture. He suggested I might go to Cambridge and spend a day at a place called Kettles Yard. There are more Winifreds there than anywhere else in the UK, and many pictures by her close friend Christopher Wood.
Oh dear. This is difficult. The only thing going for me seems I’m about the right age and I’ve have children, though mine are older than hers in the production. I was so surprised to get this part, but as Michael said over the phone, your profile fits. Except for the weight and the hair, and I know nothing about painting. Why should I? Jeff told me, the composer Morton Feldman once said if you haven’t got a friend whose a painter, you’re in trouble. I’m in trouble. But he has very kind eyes and when he touched me gently on the shoulder after Lizzie and I sung that shells duet I had to look away.
Reaching down arm-deep into bright water
I gathered on white sand under waves
Shells, drifted up on beaches where I alone
Inhabit a finite world of years and days.
I reached my arm down a myriad years
To gather treasure from the yester-millennial sea-floor,
Held in my fingers forms shaped on the day of creation….
They sleep on the ocean floor like humming-tops
Whose music is the mother-of-pearl octave of the rainbow,
Harmonious shells that whisper for ever in our ears,
‘The world that you inhabit has not yet been created’
Mind you, I don’t envy Lizzie being Kathleen Raine. Now that is a difficult part, even though she’s only in Act 2. Raine was definitely odd. He says I have to understand their friendship, because there was something about it that made them both more than they were. I don’t understand that.
Jane and the children are amazing already. Martin (my ‘other’ half Ben Nicholson) said they’d been rehearsing with Robert because his wife (Robert’s wife Debbie) is at WNO and they were scared about this one. I’ll say this for him he knows exactly how children interrupt, constantly. It’s clever the way he uses the interruptions to change direction of the dialogue. Conversations are often left unfinished. The bit when that ***** Barbara visits the apartment unexpectedly is brilliant. She’s completely demolished by these kids of her lover.
But those letters . . . he said, can you imagine your husband writing to you over a period of 40 years? Quite a thought that. David wrote to me a few times when I was in Madrid for Cosi just after we’d met, but it was all telephone calls after that. Why waste paper, time and a stamp. But I take his point – their letters are so beautiful – and they were separated for God’s sake. He’d gone off with another woman, and even brought her to Paris. And you could not have two totally different women – she ,slight, chain-smoking, work-a-holic, sharp-tongued with that Yorkshire edge, and me with ‘a quiet voice, trying always to be gentle and kind ‘– W would be called an earth-mother these days. She was a kind of hippie, only she had money – mind you most of those hippies of the 60s had money otherwise they couldn’t have done drugs (heard that on Radio 4 last week in a programme about Richard Brautigan). But they wrote to each other almost every day.
Do you know there are several kinds of happiness, and there is one sort which I have found. It is the sort that is within oneself, enjoying fresh promise, and taking all the experiences of life that one has been through, so-called sad ones and so-called happy ones, to make up understanding that is further on than joy or sorrow. I have been extremely lucky – I have had ten years of companionship with an ‘all-time’ painter, working in the medium of classic eternity and that has been better than a lifetime with any second-class person – isn’t it - I have found it so…
Best love Winifred
What’s clever about the letter sequences is the way the two-way correspondence is handled as a duet and right in the middle of it you’ll get a flashback – like Winifred suddenly remembering her first meeting with Ben.
I heard this voice
In the room next door
I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t move
I knew, I knew for certain
This was the man I would marry.
And when we were introduced
He seemed to know this too.
We gaily call this an opera, but it’s not. It’s something else. It simply doesn’t do what you think it’s going to do. Even when you do something for a second time the accompaniment doesn’t do what you expect and remembered. It’s this open-form business. Something else I know nothing about. He mentioned Umberto Eco – now I’ve read Name of the Rose. When Braque or Mondrian or Jan Eps visit unannounced I have no idea which one it’s going to be – these guys just used to turn up. Sometimes two at once. W didn’t invite them. They came for her English hospitality (home baking I think) and her beautiful apartment come studio – beautiful, because she made it so. Her French was appalling, and this is difficult because I speak quite well, and now I have to speak like an idiot. Bridget (playing Cissy the Cumbrian nanny) having her French lesson is a hoot, and with the children correcting her all the time, it’s lovely.
He was very sweet when we broke for lunch. Sara, he said, as I collapsed into an auditorium seat to find my bag and mobile, Sara, we’ve got to find you a painter to spend a day with . . . so you’ll know how to stand in front of an easel. I phoned Sarah Jane Brown who has a studio in Cardiff and she’d love to meet you. Here’s her number. She paints flowers and landscapes – as well as the abstract stuff - just like Winifred. Her tutor at the RCA actually knew Winifred. And with that he disappeared to a dark corner of the theatre and unwrapped his sandwiches. You can tell he’s not into break discussions with Julian or Michael. I think he’s terribly shy. He’s interested in the cast and so he picks them off one by one. Julian I know doesn’t like this. I think everything needs to go through me, he said at the end of yesterday’s rehearsal. Who does he think he is?! Lizzie reminded Julian he was the composer and what he doesn’t know about this whole period and its characters isn’t knowledge. Liz thinks he’s a sweetie – and she’s sung his Raine settings at Branwyn Hall last year – with Robert who was his MD with BBCNOW. Liz knows Julian hasn’t done his usual homework because he’s got this production in Birmingham on the boil. Unknown Colour is a distraction he can do without.
This afternoon it’s back to the mayhem of those ensemble scenes in Act 1. They’re quite crazy, but I’m already beginning to feel I can start to be someone other than me. Did you know I have this lovely song? It’s quite Sondheim . . .
*I like to have a picture in my room.
Without one, my room feels bare
however much furniture is there;
Pictures play so many roles.
My room has too much going on in it
for something extravagant.
In the morning it is a sanctuary,
in the daytime a factory,
in the evening a place of festivity,
and through the night a place of rest.
I want a window in it,
And a focal point, something alive and silent.
A bunch of flowers on the window sill?
Yes, but they will wither.
A cat curled up on the hearth?
Yes, but it will go away and prowl upon the rooftops.
A picture will always be there.
It will make no sound. It will wait.
If it is true I shall never grow tired of it.
I shall see something fresh in it
when I glance at it tomorrow.
It will always be my friend.