Wars of the RosesPhobiaBoy Gets GirlBlack MedeaThe MaidsHating the theatre ~ theatre notes

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Wars of the Roses

Wars of the Roses by Williams Shakespeare, directed by John Bell, designed by Stephen Curtis. With Joe Manning, John Batchelor, Robert Alexander, Christopher Stollery, Greg Stone, Timothy Walter, Matthew Moore, Richard Piper, Peter Lamb, Darren Gilshenan, Georgia Adamson, Julian Garner, David Davies, John Turnbull and Julia Davis. Bell Shakespeare at the Arts Centre Playhouse until June 4.

Shakespeare's early history plays have preoccupied many an ambitious director. The eight plays make an extraordinary epic drama covering five generations of brutal power struggles. The second tetralogy, Henry VI parts I, II and III and Richard III, dramatises the ruinous civil wars between the houses of Lancaster and York that tore England apart before the ascension of the Tudor dynasty to the throne.

John Bell follows luminaries like Peter Hall, Michael Bogdanov and Adrian Noble in tackling the second tetralogy. And like Hall (Wars of the Roses) and Noble (The Plantagenets), he has elected to adapt the four works into a single play. To be more precise, he has worked the Henry VI trilogy into a play, and then appended as an epilogue the shortest version ever of Richard III, whose Machiavellian ascension to power over a pile of corpses takes the length of a song.

This is a self-consciously irreverent Australian adaptation of works which are, to the marrow of their bone, about Englishness. Why, then, should we be interested in them? Shakespeare's analysis of the tragic, inexorable cycle of power suggests one answer. But rather than delving into the harsh morality of Shakespeare's complex political world, Bell sidesteps the question and plumps for cheap populism.

Perhaps the most obvious symptom of this is the Monty Python accents affected by the French, who are presented as a bunch of fops. At any moment you expect them to start hurling dung at the Eengleesh. Worse, it makes it hard to believe that the French are capable of mounting any defence against the English, let alone winning any battles. Worst of all, when Joan of Arc (Georgia Adamson, mercifully free of the foppishness) is captured, Bell makes an allusion to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal by having her brought on in a shopping trolley, her head in a black bag, and pushed around while soldiers take photos of the abuse.

This snatch at contemporary events is gratuitously shallow: are we now supposed to equate France with occupied Iraq? And if so, why are we caricaturing the enemy? Or is the whole issue of torture merely the occasion (as I fear) for a jokey aside? The same kind of metaphorical confusion happens when Jack Cade (Christopher Stollery) quotes a line by George W. Bush ("Watch this drive!") So the most powerful leader in the Western world, the scion of a wealthy oil dynasty, is actually like a rebellious and powerless peasant?

Aside from a scene showing Joan's dealings with demons and witchcraft (absent from this version), Shakespeare is fairly even-handed in his portrayals of the French and the English, with both armies demonising each other. Dehumanising the enemy is one of the time-honoured (or dishonoured) staples of warfare, and Shakespeare clearly demonstrates its mechanisms. By eliciting easy laughs at the expense of the French, Bell neatly fillets out this moral equivalence, and with it a great deal of tragic power.

These merry quips are among aspects of the production that are supposed to appeal to the young. They certainly got laughs from the not-very-young audience, making me reflect on Howard Barker's now disavowed dictum that laughter in the theatre is a kind of death. But mainly I wondered whether obscuring Shakespeare's seriousness and emotional potency wasn't, in fact, cheating young people of a potentially astounding experience.

Certainly the teenagers I took, media sophisticates that they are, were rolling their eyes at the contemporary references ("what's with the Bush thing?") They also knew it didn't make sense. And such panderings dilute any moments of genuine audacity - Darren Gilshenan, for example, singing the famous opening lines to Richard III as a sardonically dark rock song.

Richard Curtis' design sets the play in a sports stadium, with echoes of the Colosseum, and many of the soldierly costumes are versions of athletic body armour. The motley costumes strike a balance between being brashly contemporary and theatrically timeless, and the harsh, flat lighting accentuates the unrelenting brutality of the action. For the most part the battle scenes, staged as aggressive dance or with elements from Asian fight films, are exciting and theatrical.

The most powerful moments revolve around the performances of Richard Piper as Warwick and Greg Stone as the Duke of York. They imbue their roles with a masculinity that wavers between swagger and amoral ruthlessness, complicated by epiphanies of real, tragic feeling: half gangsters, half noblemen. Piper plays Warwick, the Duke of York's chief henchman, as a bluff mercenary, pragmatic and pitiless in pursuit of his goals, but also unwaveringly loyal to York and touchy about his honour.

Stone's performance is remarkable: the scene on the molehill when the captured Duke of York is mocked by Margaret of Anjou, who throws him a handkerchief stained with the blood of his dead son, is one of the few times when the play truly reaches Shakespearean heights. York's railing against Margaret, and the unbearable poignancy of his grief, is a heart rending evocation of the tragedy and bloodiness of war.

They are surrounded by generally strong performances, notably from John Batchelor, Christopher Stollery, Georgia Adamson and Peter Lamb, but at times the characterisations seemed a little one dimensional. The pious, unworldly Henry IV is an ambiguous figure, at once pitiable, morally admirable and contemptibly irresponsible. He is played somewhat wanly by Joe Manning, who mostly succeeds in seeming bewildered. There are more subtleties and strengths to this role than pathos; an inescapable bitterness at his destiny, for example, and the irony that knows the true worth of the crown for which so many others are prepared to murder.

Margaret of Anjou is played by Blazey Best as a manipulative sex bomb, an interpretation that, like her outrageous accent, obscures her warrior ruthlessness. Darren Gilshenan plays Richard of Gloucester, York's hunchbacked son (soon to be Richard III) as a pastiche of Laurence Olivier and Anthony Sher's spidery performances. It works - kind of - but as caricature rather than characterisation.

These interpretations strike me as failures of direction rather than performance, a marred understanding of the plays which often mistakes novelty for originality and crassness for crude vitality. It's a shame, because in its best moments, Wars of the Roses has the lineaments of a tantalisingly excellent production.

Bell Shakespeare

Read More.....


Phobia: text and direction by Douglas Horton, music and sound concept by Gerard Brophy. Design coordination by Jacqui Everett. With Teresa Blake, Boris Conley, Patrick Cronin, David Hewitt, Graeme Leak, Daniel Witton. Chamber Made Opera at Melbourne Town Hall.

wit 1 (wt)
n. 1. The natural ability to perceive and understand; intelligence.
2. a. Keenness and quickness of perception or discernment; ingenuity. Often used in the plural: living by one's wits. b. wits Sound mental faculties; sanity: scared out of my wits.
3. a. The ability to perceive and express in an ingeniously humorous manner the relationship between seemingly incongruous or disparate things. b. One noted for this ability, especially one skilled in repartee. c. A person of exceptional intelligence.

Perhaps the chief pleasure of Phobia is its wit. In all senses of the word.

It's a fond and deft tribute to the genre of film noir: the black and white world of hard boiled detectives, blonde dames, mysterious violent deaths and high heels clicking down shadowy alleys: a Hitchcockian universe in which the key to a mystery, instead of comfortably knitting up the world like Miss Marple, opens up to existential blankness. But here the medium really is the message.

Described as "the sound track to an imagined film", Phobia is set in a chaotic sound studio, in which each of the performers sit behind desks littered with various objects chosen, as becomes clear, for their sonic qualities. The narrative follows the employment of a detective by a man concerned by the erratic behaviour of his wife, whom he fears is having a breakdown. There follows a story of love, suicide, surveillance and mistaken identity, where of course the dame, under various identities, gets it (three times).

The narrative really exists to create a pallet of colours and moods, an occasion for the sound world shaped by Gerard Brophy and given life by the performers. The subcutaneous narrative, the detective story, the post-mortem dissection of film and the dissolution of identity are all familiar staples of post-modernity, but here they are given a fresh twist.

The focus of this opera is on the performances, which bring multi-tasking to a new level: the cast plays a multiplicity of instruments and performative roles with a tightly disciplined precision which gives the impression that they're all inter-dependent parts of a single organism. Part of the reason for this must be the intensely collaborative nature of its creation. Composer Gerard Brophy worked closely with the performers and the director Douglas Horton in creating scored elements and improvisatory frameworks.

As the credits make clear, the conventional roles of composer, director, performer and so on have been blurred, as have the distinctions between music and noise/sound (although some might argue that much 20th century music has done this). And there's a fair bit of play with gender and identity as well, as none of the dramatic roles is assigned to any particular performer, and an individual role might switch from one cast member to several others in the space of a few seconds.

A fascinating miscellany of objects - black telephones, crumpled paper, celery, egg beaters, books - are transformed into instruments. There's something of the obsessed geek in this relentless tapping of the secret sound-life of found objects, and even a touch of the Goon Show. This intricate soundscape segues into lush and seedy jazz numbers or other fragments drawing on a wide range of musical influences.

Horton's direction makes Phobia - surprisingly perhaps, since it also seems strongly ascetic - visually lush. The lighting plays on the cavernous spaces of the Town Hall, creating soft, lamplit oases in a world where it always seems to be night-time. In the darkness behind the playing space, performers act out film tropes - for example, the looped image of a woman running upstairs and casting herself into darkness, or a man in a suit lighting a cigarette. This sense of chiaroscuro and distorted perspective reinforces a pervading nostalgia that is underwritten by menace.

With its sly cultural referencing and absurd gender-bending, Phobia has many comic moments, but often what makes you laugh is delight at its sheer ingenuity. Like that hardy production Recital, about to be revived again at the Malthouse Theatre, it's high camp refined through a rigorously disciplined aesthetic, a mode which best illuminates Horton's considerable talents.

Chamber Made Opera

Disclosure: Douglas Horton has directed two operas by Michael Smetanin, of which I wrote the libretti: The Burrow (1995) and Gauguin (2000).

Read More.....

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Boy Gets Girl

Boy Gets Girl by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Kate Cherry. Designed by Christina Smith, with Belinda McClory, Stephen Phillips, John McTernan, Kenneth Ransom, Rebekah Stone, Terry Norris and Kellie Jones. Melbourne Theatre Company at the Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, until July 2.

I don't think my ho hum feeling about Boy Gets Girl was entirely to do with the revolve, but it's fair to say that the orchestration of the play didn't help. Director Kate Cherry had an idea, and stuck to it grimly. Like so: scene ends, turn up thriller-type music and industrial lighting effects, whirl those desks and beds sedately around the theatre, cue hurried prop preparation by the actors, and bingo! new scene...

Don't get me wrong, I like revolves, they're funky. But as somebody said of love making, repetition either enhances or deadens. In this case, the inexorable rhythm set by the revolve had me yawning by half time and longing for a static stage where lights could just come up, bang, without all this technological fuss. And although Cherry's direction flattened any dramatic arc the play might have had, I'm not sure that it had much in the first place. The only real virtue of this production is that it frames a virtuoso performance by that fine actor, Belinda McClory.

Rebecca Gilman's play is an earnest exploration of the effects that stalking has on its victims, in this case a bright literary journalist Theresa (Belinda McClory) who works for a swank New York magazine. Single and workaholic, she is set up for a blind date with Tony (Stephen Phillips) by a well-meaning friend. When she decides that she's not interested, Tony won't take no for an answer, and bombards her with flowers, letters, phone calls and emails that become steadily more sinister.

Being stalked is no fun at all, as I know myself, and Gilman does a good job, at least initially, of portraying the powerlessness, paranoia and frustration that it can induce, and demonstrating the frightening lack of legal recourses for stalking victims. Theresa finds her whole life invaded by her stalker: she loses her home, her job and even her identity. And she can do nothing about it.

Less successfully, Gilman ties the issue of stalking, via some conversations with Theresa's workmates Mercer (Kenneth Ransom) and Howard (John McTernan), to the sexist objectifying of women. Her fellow office workers engage in painful and somewhat tedious self-examination, and decide that stalking is at the dark end of a continuum which begins with male sexual desire.

This argument is extended in Theresa's comic interviews with an aging John Waters-type film director, Les Kennkat (Terry Norris), whose porno horror movies have become cult classics, and the young bimbo secretary Harriet (Rebekah Stone) who is, mystifyingly, dressed like Bubbles from Absolutely Fabulous.

In blaming the phenomenon of stalking squarely on media stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes to women, Gilman glosses over the fact that 20 per cent of stalking is done by women. Stalking is obsessed and delusional behaviour that isn't inherently to do with gender, although its behavourial peculiarities are naturally inflected through gendered behaviours. To claim that male sexual attraction is simply a milder version of stalking is, to say the least, problematic.

But this is a play with a message, designed to hold the mirror up to society so we can then question it, yadayadayada. Forgive my cynicism, but this idea of theatre bores the pants off me: it's all very worthy, but mightn't it be, perhaps, a teensy bit patronising...? Its analysis never moves beyond the realms of pop psychology, and its emotional high points are all confessions, a version of what my friend called the "emotional pornography" that drives shows like Oprah and Jerry Springer. Pace the disillusioned Hester Bell of a few posts ago, might not this be the kind of skilful, dull naturalism that makes people wonder why they don't stay home and hire a DVD?

Belinda McClory gives an excellent and nuanced performance as Theresa, the emotionally spiky and increasingly vulnerable journalist, and the cast generally supports her well. But even decent performances can't make up for the essential banality of this play. It reminds me of a lot of contemporary American poetry: it's very competently written and it's literate. As a play, it moves from scene to scene efficiently and has the requisite comic relief. But as theatre, it's about as interesting as the telemovies it so closely resembles.

Melbourne Theatre Company

Read More.....

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Black Medea

Black Medea by Wesley Enoch, directed by the writer. Designed by Christina Smith, lighting by Rachel Burke, sound design by Jethro Woodward. With Margaret Harvey, Aaron Pedersen, Michael Morgan/Jesse Rotumah-Gardiner and Justine Saunders. Beckett Theatre @ The Malthouse, until June 5.

A while back, around Nietzsche, the gods deserted classical tragedy. They were scaled back to psychological symbols: the Furies became externalisations of Orestes' guilt, and Oedipus' fate - to kill his father and marry his mother - became an expression of subconscious desires.

These interpretations are a reasonable response by post-Enlightenment culture to the questions posed by these capricious arbiters of human fate. To the rationalist West, pagan gods could seem perilously silly. But it can be argued that tragedy lost as much as it gained by the psychological domestication of the gods: the sacred and the divine are as much part of the tragic experience as catastrophe.

One of the fascinating aspects of Wesley Enoch's adaptation of Medea is that the gods are back, as potent, implacable and bloody as ever. Enoch has freely transposed the legend of Medea to indigenous themes, and his muscularly poetic text excavates an often obscured aspect of its chthonic energy. Here Cypris (Aphrodite), the main mover of events in Euripides' play, is replaced by the vengeful ancestral spirits of Central Australia. Since the ancestral spirits are also the land, they have a literal potency that can resonate with even the most secular white.

Like the original, Enoch's Medea (Margaret Harvey) is a wise woman, a witch privy to the magical traditions of her people who betrays her heritage for the love of Jason (Aaron Pedersen). She leaves her desert home to marry a handsome, ambitious Aboriginal from the city, her "ticket out". By marrying the stranger she violates the complex kinship codes of her people, and she compounds her crime by selling her knowledge of the land to mining companies, leading them to the sacred places where she knows they will find ore.

Jason is, however, as much an exile as Medea. What destroys their relationship - as much businesslike pact as passionate sexual love - is the desert wind brought into his house, unwittingly, by Medea herself; a fate that howls through the front door and which speaks to him, through Medea's ancestral spirits, as his madness. His faithlessness is in some ways more profound than the original Jason's; he doesn't marry another, but instead completely loses touch with himself. He can't keep a job or support his family, and descends into a cycle of alcoholism and violence; a fate, it becomes clear, also suffered by his father.

Finally, despite Jason's deep emotional dependence on Medea, he obeys the promptings of the elder spirit (Justine Saunders) and throws Medea out of the marital home. Medea, who no longer has a home to return to, and who can see for her son only the same future as his father, murders her own child in revenge and despair, savagely ending the paternal cycle of violence.

Medea's act seems, interestingly, also a revenge on those spirits that drive her husband mad and demand that she bring her son home to the desert: she will hand her son over neither to his father nor to her own people, where he will suffer only another kind of disposession. It's a startlingly bleak expression of the conflict between traditional and urban indigenous cultures, offering no chink of hope. Perhaps what makes this story genuinely a tragedy is that there is no hint of moral judgement: Medea and Jason are trapped in the tension between conflicting imperatives which are both, on their own terms, in the right. The spiral towards catastrophe unravels from the wider injustice of their situation.

Enoch's production is unapologetically theatrical. As Medea, Margaret Harvey is skin-tighteningly compelling; the force of her curse literally gave me goosebumps. Harvey's full-blooded cry "I am Medea!" stands with "I am the Duchess of Malfi still!" as a great theatrical moment of defiance against fate. Aaron Pedersen's performance matches Harvey's, switching between terrifying violence and snivelling weakness. Justine Saunders plays a double role, as Old Medea narrating the story and the tribal spirit manipulating Medea and Jason, and her performance shifts from benign comedy to implacability.

Christina Smith's claustrophobic corrugated iron set, spectacularly lit by Rachel Burke, frames the story in brooding darkness. Among the most potent scenes are a number of swift, wordless vignettes, flashing out of the dark to a driving score, that give poignant glimpses of a disintegrating family. For all its classical provenance, Black Medea is powerfully contemporary. Enoch seamlessly weaves together with naturalism the heiratic, ritualised action of classical tragedy, giving the play both the intimacy of a domestic drama and the grand, extreme gestures of tragedy. It makes thrilling theatre.

Picture: Margaret Harvey and Aaron Pedersen in Black Medea

Malthouse Theatre

Read More.....

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Maids

The Maids by Jean Genet, directed by John Bolton, lighting by Armando Licul and Govin Ruben. With Suzannah Bayes-Morton, Zoe Ellerton-Ashley and Shelly Lauman. Victorian College of the Arts School of Drama Autumn Season, Grant Street Theatre

I vividly remember my first encounter with the writing of Jean Genet. I was around nineteen and for reasons I forget - perhaps no reason - I picked up his first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers. I read it in a kind of daze: I found myself hypnotised by the sheer decadent sensuality of the prose, and at the same time completely confused. I did not understand this moral universe at all.

Yet, when I reached its final pages, there occurred one of those perceptual shifts that art can occasionally produce, a kind of click; the mental equivalent, I suppose, of those Victorian optical puzzles where you suddenly realise that what appears at first to be a white vase is also two faces in profile. It was as if, through the experience of reading it, I had insensibly been given a key to the book. I went straight back to page one and read it again. And it's probably fair to say - though I can say this of a number of books, thus demonstrating the vicious effect of reading - that I have never been quite the same since.

My naive bourgeois assumptions had, all the way through the book, been kicked, trampled and spat on; and even so, I had probably understood about fifty per cent of its violations. (In many ways I had a sheltered upbringing). Genet turned all the values I didn't realise I held violently inside out.

It was all very exciting. But it was also much more than that; if it had been merely shocking, it would not have disturbed me so profoundly. What I realised, however foggily, was that Genet is a sternly moral writer.

Much later, I read Jean-Paul Sartre's monumental study, Saint Genet, which explores this basic illumination to great depth. But, however much I admired Sartre's scholarship and perception, I couldn't help feeling dubious about his breathless sanctification of Genet, which itself seemed a little bourgeois, underlaid by a wide-eyed boyish fascination with the romantic beauty of criminal revolt.

I think Genet was neither a saint nor a demon. These extreme identities were masks: behind them stood a complex, anonymous and, perhaps, even detached intellectual (a title he despised). He seems to me to be at once driven by deep anger and love, and yet standing at a profoundly ironic angle to himself. This generates the passion of his artifice, which is deadly serious: Genet's vision is not camp, as is often claimed, but tragic. It may elude and mock the fatal trivialities and sentiment of the intellect, which are the death of love, but it doesn't eschew, as camp does, seriousness itself. That's one of the things that can make Genet, still, an authentically shocking writer.

Georges Bataille's term "hypermorality" - used to describe a moral system which challenges received morality to the extent that it is regarded as either amoral or immoral - is pertinent here. Somehow in Genet's writing, despite the extremity of experience it enacts, one is always aware of the cold witnessing eye. Perhaps this is no more than to say that he was a great writer. Whatever the case, it is true enough to say that all his life, Genet was concerned with the question of power: what it is, what it does to those who lack it, what it does to those who possess it.

It's a theme already clear in The Maids. This play, his first to be produced, was actually his second work for theatre after Deathwatch, a blackly absurd drama set in prison. The Maids was written in 1945, the last year of World War 2, which is not insignificant. It has been said that the dropping of the nuclear bomb was the act which inaugurated the Theatre of the Absurd: the possibility that human beings could completely annihilate themselves suggested a world of such madness that only real madness could be considered a sane response.

The Maids, inspired by a notorious 1933 murder when two maids brutally killed their employers, collapses fantasy and reality. It is a play of heiratic roles, all of them ultimately cruel: the two maids, Solange (Suzannah Bayes-Morton) and Claire (Shelly Lauman), act out their sadistic mistress-servant fantasies and their social roles as servants; Madame (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) her performances as tyrant, beneficient employer and lover.

All these roles circle each other, as increasingly malevolent reflections; each character switches without warning from total abjection to an equally total tyranny. Between these switches are poignant articulations of love, distorted by the cliches which express and imprison them, a yearning which is at once instransigent and ungraspable, because inexpressible. Literally, within the paradigm of power this play expresses, there is no language for love. Consequently, as becomes evident through the play, all these gestures are ultimately expressions of despair, rhetorics of behaviour which conceal a devastating inner emptiness. Beyond the paradigm of dominator and dominated, there is an unfillable vacuum.

This makes The Maids, to say the least, an extremely challenging play. John Bolton's production makes a very creditable fist of it. It opens with the fantasies of the maid servants performed on an over-the-top stage of velvet drapes and flowers, placed in the middle of an empty space. When the alarm goes off, signalling Madame's imminent arrival, Solange and Claire "tidy up": their makeshift stage is Madame's bed, the velvet drapes her bedspread, and so on. This opens the action out to the "real life" of the stage, which turns out to be as histrionic as their own fantasies.

Genet's famous advice to women playing The Maids (it was originally written for men) was that they must not "put their c***ts on the table". In other words, this is not a play which looks specifically at how women relate, and must not be played as if it is. By virtue of a certain toughness and edginess, this production avoids the traps that Genet warned against.

The Maids really requires an older cast; not because older actors might be more skilled, but because there are some understandings that come, except in very rare instances, only with time. In the absence of the extreme emotional sophistication Genet's writing requires - a lived understanding of the intolerability of what Genet is portraying - the passion of these young actors is a good substitute. They give performances that are at once fearless and controlled, and attain performative fineness without losing an essential, naive sense of emotional rawness.

I admired especially Zoe Ellerton-Ashley as Madame. Her predatory performance evoked both Madame's shockingly violent egocentricity and her fragility, the source of a genuine pathos. And it was great also to see an indigenous actor cast, without comment, in this play.

It is a good and honest production that reveals the despair that drives The Maids, its merciless portrayal of the intolerable poverty of emotional worlds wholly trammelled by capitalistic power. Yet it is a mistake to regard Genet's black vision as nihilistic: his work is far from that. The erotic dynamic in the play is, in a way, its own subterranean counter-argument. And, to quote John Berger, one of the great writers of our time: "The naming of the intolerable is itself the hope".

Read More.....

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.

Read More.....