Theatre is the worst thing about theatre…

Do you know what I hate? Theatre. But I just can’t seem to avoid it. Every time I go to a play Theatre happens and it’s terrible. I could be really invested in the story, enthralled by the sensitive performances of the actors, dazzled by the light and sound design but then the Theatre starts and the whole thing falls apart. And it all comes down to the three M’s. Monologues, Metaphors and My lack of patience. I swear that last one is a genuine point and not just me being snarky. But it is also me being snarky because Theatre has had this coming for a long time.

So, you are watching a play with this flowing naturalistic dialogue that’s doing a great job of simulating actual human beings and conveying character. And as they talk, you notice how the personalities clash and minor insults build up. One character asks why the other didn’t sweep up the leaves when they had asked them to. After all, they’d asked them to do it at least four times and it’s not a big deal. The other either doesn’t understand why they’re taking this so personally or knows exactly why. Old wounds begin to open, and voices start to rise. And just before the scene reaches a crescendo, one character starts blabbing about how the changing of seasons is a lot like heartbreak and it’s ruined. The first of the three M’s has reared its ugly head. Monologues. The whole play stops for this inane monologue that no human would ever say. Especially in a tense situation. Like in the moment you realise your marriage is about to fall apart you are not going to have a three minute monologue, buckling under the weight of its own imagery in the chamber, ready to fire. You are probably going to cry and get snot everywhere and say something hurtful to the other person because you are not a well adjusted human. And if you were, you probably wouldn’t have a play written about you.

But let’s say the monologue about how the frost on the grass symbolises the end of your sultry summer love didn’t happen because while God is capricious, he is not entirely without mercy. Instead, the scene ends with both parties wounded as their relationship informally enters a new phase. But how do you bridge the gap that isn’t there? How do make sure that no one in the audience, no matter how little attention they paid, is left behind? So enters the second of three M’s. Metaphor. You stick on the cold wash, play some nice long chords (possibly only the one), and have one actor pick up the autumn leaves scattered around the stage while the other starts throwing fake snow everywhere. Because their relationship has turned cold you see. It’s also vitally important that during this section the actors, so driven to perform the scene as they have been directed, forget to act. It must be completely detached from the emotional experiences accrued thus far otherwise it doesn’t count as a metaphor. Sound pretentious and dumb and shit and bad? Tough. Them’s the rules of Theatre.

And so, we come to the final of the Three M’s. The most damaging of all. The worst part about going to the theatre. My lack of patience. I mean it. If I so much as get a whiff of the previous two M’s, I will have an honest to god sulk right there in the middle of the theatre. And it’s awful because if I wasn’t such a giant asshole and just went along with what the play was doing, I’d probably enjoy the experience a whole lot more. But when it comes to art, I feel as though I am a cynic by reflex. “Don’t you experiment with the boundaries of story and character,” I say to Theatre, “or all my toys are going out of this pram”. This isn’t to say there aren’t egregious examples of the M’s that no amount of leeway will fix. It’s usually because they are tonally at odds with the rest of the play. If you’ve put all the effort into giving it a naturalistic tone, then maybe you need to hold back on the long monologues about how melancholic the first bluebells of Spring can be.

(Sidenote: if I ever actual hear an actor compare heartbreak to the changing of seasons, I will not be held responsible for the snarky things I say in group texts.)

But there are also moments of brilliance, where concepts too massive to be expressed in words are distilled into a few fleeting seconds of physical clarity or a character, pushed to their breaking point, offers a passionate defence of their right to be heard, to be loved and have the dead leaves swept up without having to ask a million times, damn it! And how when they watch their partner walk through the garden, mounds of dead leaves crunching beneath their boots with each step, they can’t help but feel trodden on. The message of this blog isn’t quite “these things are bad except for when they work”, which is what I thought it would be when I started writing it. Rather, it’s a reminder for all of us to enter the theatre open to the possibilities. To give the artists at work room to experiment without fear of our preconceptions. Because if we aren’t careful, do you know what the worst thing about theatre will be?

Us.

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