Mar 21, 2007

Anthony Neilson

Interesting piece from Anthony Neilson on the Guardian Theatre blog, on quite how boring theatre can be. I totally agree - so much of the theatre that I hear about bores the pants off me just reading the synopsis.

Much of Neilson's piece mirrors what I have been saying recently about the stultifying affect on the theatre of writers with literary pretentions (or as Neilson would have it - who allow ego to spill into their work) who imagine that theatre should be nothing more than a platform for their work. Often these days it is only those much denigrated west end musicals that are produced in full knowledge of the power of theatre as live performance and as spectacle, as Neilson says:
Much as the synopsis of We Will Rock You sounds abysmal, it's pulling in more punters a night than some "serious" shows attract in a week. There's a dangerously dismissive response to this uncomfortable truth among many of my fellow practitioners, but it's not hard to figure out why this might be. Musical theatre offers song and dance, of course; a certain unpretentiousness; a tangible sense of "liveness"; magic; and, most importantly, spectacle.

It is time the "serious" theatre learns this lesson. We have to give the audiences what they can't get anywhere else. Debate they can get in a newspaper. Reality - well, they can get that on TV. We can offer them "liveness", but few plays, or productions, take advantage of this. Too many screenplays masquerading as plays and an over-reliance on mixed media have imbued the theatre with a heaviness it's not best suited to. Some may argue that technology is the key to spectacle, but most theatres can't compete with the West End technologically. The spectacle we can offer is the spectacle of imagination in flight. I've heard audiences gasp at turns of plot, at a location conjured by actors, at the shock of a truth being spoken, at the audacity of a moment. There is nothing more magical and nothing - nothing - less boring.


Craig said...

Hey Andy,

This was a good, provocative piece. Thanks for posting it. I too believe that the main obligation theatre has is not to be boring, and in fact, I'm in complete sympathy with people who say all they want is to be entertained. Me too. Though, God knows, the bum-aching boredom which having to sit through something like Phantom of the Opera or the umpteenth production of Grease brings upon me seems totally out of keeping with the tastes of the majority of theatre-goers. If all I wanted was something pretty and shiny, I would have been able to rest content with that mobile they hung over my crib when I was 8 months old. I've got to have some sort of intellectual provocation and emotional passion, or I snooze. But I'm certainly not opposed to accompanying my cerebral scintillation with a little vulgar razz-a-ma-tazz. So, while I don't know that it's an easily resolvable problem, certainly neither snobbery nor vacuousness are helpful.

And yes, I remember you well from your time at Queen's---together with a "would-have-cast-him-but-he-proved-unavailable" episode.

Anonymous said...

hello sir field, guess who?! (i'll give you a hint - i'm currently the new youtube queen!) well said here... we now know how utterly boring theatre can be thanks to so many of our esteemed colleagues and classmates. ;)