More politics ~ theatre notes

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More politics

It's the zeitgeist. Not only are in we in election fever (well, a kind of low buzzing headache really), but it seems that for the theatrical blogosphere, politics is the topic du jour. Our favourite rabbit, Matthew Clayfield, was spotted by an Age journalist hounding the PM fondly known as "Calamity John" (you can follow Matt's adventures here on Election Tracker). He's doing a sterling job - Matt, I mean, not John - but hey Matt, we want you back here where you belong.

I had my own meditations yesterday, responding to Hilary Glow's new book on theatre and politics, but mainly the blogosphere is awash with responses to Jay Rayner's piece on the pressing need for right wing theatre "to take on the establishment". I'm kind of with George Hunka here: as he comments dryly, "if you want to fuss, fuss". George picks up on David Hare's bizarre comment about Samuel Beckett's "prettified acceptance" of suffering - an offensively mistaken view of Beckett, in my view, and amply countered by Trevor Griffiths' suggestion that Beckett was the most political playwright of his era (this via Abe Pogos). This kind of discussion sends me into catatonia, I'm afraid. It seems to comprehensively miss the point about theatre and politics, and I start wanting to instruct everybody to go back and read Susan Sontag again. But maybe missing the point is the point. I'm not sure.

Not that I'm against the intersection of theatre and politics; I just wish the terms were more interesting. So I'm glad to see that Lyn Gardner from the Guardian got along to Honour Bound in London and gave it a four-star rave, despite my esteemed colleague Mr Boyd predicting that it would be greeted with "contempt". (What was that conversation, Chris?)

I guess you're all sick of politics by now. Good. Let me point you then to a must-read - George Hunka again, this time on the blog at Ontological-Hysteric Theatre observing Richard Foreman in rehearsal. That'll scramble your binaries for you.


Abe Pogos said...

Hi Alison,

the David Hare comment on Beckett brought to mind the following remarks by Robert Jay Lifton, a famous American Professor of Psychology who has written extensively on genocide, cults and nuclear madness. This extract "Art and the Imagery of Extinction is from a book of essays called The Future of Immortality (this essay is actually an interview he did with a theatre critic):

"The protean or post-modern question is perhaps, How does one maintain a sense of vitality or life-continuity in the face of the threat of extinction, and in the face of the breakdown of all the symbols by which our lives are organised?...Beckett is very much asking the question of identity, but he does it beyond identity, he's very much in the realm of extinction. Beckett's radically constricted characters accentuate by contrast the richness of life. I take from Beckett not a positive message, that would be putting it too strongly, but a great imaginative vision that is very much touched by extinction, but is a little beyond it. Beckett is the best example still of a theater that does something with extinction. He's the only one I can think of who we can really talk about as having a profound sense of the imagery of extinction or death in life, yet preserving the notion of continuity."

George Hunka said...

Good catch, Abe. I should have remembered it -- I just finished copyediting a new book of essays by that very same theatre critic, Bonnie Marranca, which will include that interview. Small world. And Adorno's essay on Endgame is worth looking up in this regard as well.

I hate to drone on once again about Barker, but he did say something fairly relevant here -- that his politics were his politics, and that he didn't understand why anybody would be interested in them; he'd prefer their interest be directed to his plays. Perhaps Beckett felt similarly. I do get the idea that much of this explicitly political theatre is an attempt to demonstrate, more than the need for change, that the artists who create it have their hearts in the right place (which is, in most cases, the left place).

Chris Boyd said...

Oi, didn't I say that dance critics would review it with contempt? And that theatre critics might be gentler... especially good-hearted souls like (yourself and) Lyn... Who, if memory serves, conceded that it was preaching to the converted.

You folks who can't disentangle good politics from good theatre... I don't know... harrumph.

Alison Croggon said...

Yes Chris, you did say dance critics. (Me? Good-hearted? The shame! And here's me, winning enemies for years now, even being tapped as part of the right wing conspiracy, for loathing well-intentioned political theatre, no matter how worthy I think its cause...)

Thanks Abe, that's a marvellous quote which maybe identifies why I have that puzzling post-Beckett effect of lightness. And you can drone on about Barker as much as you like, George. Fwiw, I can't think of a play of Barker's that isn't deeply political: it's just that the politics of his plays are far more interesting, provoking and, dare I say, radical, than the comfortable ol' left/right binary can encompass.