Hating the theatre ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hating the theatre

The blog's running late this week. Yes, your indefagitable crrrritic has had a minor brain implosion, due to a number of trivial domestic and biological emergencies. Even so, I am ruminating - somewhat more slowly than I would like - on Jean Genet, whose play The Maids I had the pleasure of seeing last week, courtesy of the VCA autumn graduation season at Grant Street. It will be up in the next day or so, if the gods are kind to me.

Meantime, I share with you an article which caught my eye in the Guardian. It's one of those personal pieces which come around fairly regularly on "why I hate the theatre". Hester Lacey went to see an Alan Bennett play which was "jolly good", but next time, by George, she's going to stay home and watch a dvd. The seats are uncomfortable at the theatre. It's too hot. It's full of pretentious people. It cost a fortune.

She goes on to say:

"I am looking forward to seeing The History Boys again, though, once the BBC gets hold of it and turns it into a two-part TV drama. This I will be able to record and watch whenever I want. I will be able to cough, blow my nose and go to the loo at will. Rather than attempting to recreate Rievaulx Abbey on stage, they will be able to film there. I will be able to see the actors' faces without squinting from half a mile away. There will be nobody tall in front of me. It will be near as dammit free, and it will be piped into the comfort of my own room.

"Which is the only location where I will now ever watch a drama which consists of people sitting round and talking. The exception comes with genuine spectacles whose sheer scale is too enormous for the box. The Lion King? Bring it on. The Cirque du Soleil is another good example - seeing this live on stage is exhilarating."

These aren't illegitimate complaints, particularly the cost; but I find them incredibly depressing. If a punter goes to a film and dislikes it, she will say she disliked that particular film, not film in general. But if people go and see a play and don't enjoy it, they almost always will blame the whole art form.

But really - a "drama" is something that consists of "people sitting round and talking"? (Yes, it is Alan Bennett). And the only alternative is sheer spectacle? My heart plummets.... I suspect that Hester was just plain bored, although she probably didn't realise it - I expect the production was, as she said, "jolly good", and that everything was jolly well done, and Bennett's play was jolly decently written. The problem is, that isn't enough to make theatre. As per the quote in my header, theatre emerges from a "monstrous hunger".

The downside (and upside) of theatre's liveness is its magnification: there is no comparable cultural torture, except possibly an awful poetry reading, to being bored in the theatre. On the other hand, when it's doing the things only theatre can do - which are so much more than either talking heads or lion cossies - it's the most exhilarating thing in the world. You don't worry about heating or seating when real theatre happens in front of you. Alas, it's also very difficult to achieve, but it happens all the same: and when it does, it's unforgettable. But, sadly, Hester will never know that now.


Petra said...

Yes - it's astonishing, the arrogance with which one can dismiss a whole art form if a single instance of it doesn't immediately grab. I wouldn't do it for football (though of course I hate poetry). Genrecide!

Anonymous said...

What an outrageously dopey article. Shame on The Guardian!