It is not true that “in my weakness is my strength” or “We can be at our most powerful when we are vulnerable“. Rather, we are powerful when our vulnerability cease to matter to us, either to correct or disguise. When I delight in my vulnerability it ceases to frighten me.
Without a series of coincidences- petty ones, bus late, that sort of thing- I would not have been on the South Bank on Wednesday, or had the experiences I had. If I had realised the theatre ticket Mona was offering was for a 45 minute interview with Anthony Sher I would not have bothered. If the bus had been on time I would have had my mobile phone- ask, if you really must- and not have tried to contact her by borrowing one. First I tried in the train. The woman opposite was typing furiously on her lap-top, with precise hand-written notes; I read, “£1.6m”. She had her business face on, but was very sweet when I said “excuse me”. But her mobile had ceased to work. The man beside me had no signal, but leant me his when he caught one. We had a brief conversation about mobiles. Nearing the station, she stood up, and I noticed she was trembling.
In the National Theatre, I did not notice Mona, so keen was I to borrow a mobile. The first I asked said she had specifically switched her phone off for the theatre, and the second showed hers was on the blink. You have to take the battery out, apparently. She could not remove the SIM. Then we stared at a line crawling across the screen for an age. With no signal inside, I took the phone outside in the rain, and Mona chased after me. She had been talking “to two old women- women my age”. An hour later, she said, “I have two messages- oh, they’re from you”.
I did not ask Sher my question, about his role as a psychic transsexual. Mona’s question was that she had noticed aspects of his Falstaff in his Willy Loman, and wondered how he laid down a role before starting a new one. It is not a problem, he said, nothing he had ever even considered. She tried to ask a follow-up, speaking over the interviewer, and later was going “yeah…yeah” as if we were at a table with him, rather than in an audience. At first I was embarrassed, but before the couple in front looked round disapprovingly I had decided Mona was my friend, and I would support her. Perhaps she was not used to the strong painkillers.
Sher played Falstaff as a ruthless, homeless alcoholic. His charm was part of the complexity of the character- Shakespeare writes human beings. Sher’s comment which has hurt me was that the fantasist Loman has a strong will: I do not know what to do with my strong will, either.
Mona had tickets for the play, but not one for me- but not for that night, either, she had the day wrong. I got a ticket. I have at last embraced Disabled status, which got me a £34 discount, without needing any evidence or explanation.