Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Theatre should not be realistic

David Ian Rabey, writing in The New Welsh Review in December 1998 [hat tip to George Hunka]
A number of critics and audiences persist in the presumption that theatre should "reflect life," depict it in readily recognizable terms ("readily recognizable" usually meaning upper middle-class, white, heterosexual, careerist) and proceed to some rational diagnosis of social contradiction (as in Ibsen) or else affirm the poignancy of inevitable decline of aspiration and inevitable waste of passion's possibilities (as in Chekhov). It's worth pointing out that these formulaic presumptions do Ibsen a disservice, as he was also the author of the wild, supernatural, associatively freewheeling and remorselessly unsentimental anatomy of the modern soul that is Peer Gynt. Theatre is not instruction on how to live, because if it were its presumption of a moral infancy in its audience would be offensively authoritarian. Theatre is speculation on possibilities of life, and should therefore be amoral in its explorations, which are ultimately fictional, never purporting or obeying realism: it provides the imaginative space in which such investigations can occur, in order to interrogate and refresh habitual perceptions and conventional assumptions. The laws of gravity need not apply. By analogy, neither need the depressive solemnities nor the dismissive flippancies of "real life"... A miasma of critics, directors and cultural legislators who only want their own prejudices confirmed might give rise to an audience with similarly repressive restricted appetites. Thankfully, that hasn't yet happened, entirely. I recently heard a comment from an audience member after one of my plays. She said the performance 'released her from literalism'. That'll do, for today.

Thanks once again to Thomas Cott of CottMail for this source.

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