A Good Stage Play is a Body

It’s fitting that my last post of 2015 will be about theatre. It wasn’t the sole focus of this year, but it has become carrot and stick to much of my non-work life and an unexpected emotional cure-all.

End of the year lists are out and this one made a point in the beginning which is the source of this post.

Susannah Clapp* opens her assessment with the following statement about the numerous revivals of ancient Greek plays that filled London seasons this year: “…reminded us that these plays, the basis of our drama, have recently been seen less often than they deserve.”

And I thought, “Nooooooooo! Don’t say that!” Any reasonably aware writer, front of house, back of house, artistic director, and I hope audience member would hopefully find some fault with that statement because of the constant tug of war for exposure between new work and old favorites.

While my own hackles certainly do get raised by the not-so-subtle ‘more Greeks please,’ I am actually more concerned with this idea that any works are “seen less often than they deserve.”

First, can we ditch the word ‘deserve’? Entitlement is enough  of a social/political problem, I don’t want it slipping into my theatre.

Most importantly, her thesis seemed to be that the these Greek revivals were particularly well done, reminding Clapp, and hopefully every other audience member, of the universality and continued relevance of these works. And well, shucks!, isn’t that the whole damn point? Aren’t most of us writing in hopes that one day our canon will be revealed as comparable with Shakespeare, Becket, O’Neill, Shaw, Wilson, etc.? Aren’t we trying to  crystallize an urgent contemporary moment that will resonate in human hearts in the times to come?

Every play that makes us feel, tweaks the nerves to our soul, is probably seen ‘less than it deserves.’ Otherwise every theatre experience would affect its audience so powerfully.

So, a) let’s not just exalt excellent productions of the Greeks (or any revivals). And b) let’s remember that it’s the production. The production: an amazingly well-choreographed circus representing the hard work of (many) dozens of people, each with specific, often unique tasks, that when combined create way more than the sum of their parts. Alchemy.

Susannah Clapp is right, theatre experiences that transform you a little are seen less often than they deserve. Because they are produced less often than we would like. Because like a fine watch or a once-in-a-generation athlete, it takes quality, precision, hard work and synergy.

So as you prepare to participate in theatre in 2016 distill and focus your quality, precision, hard work, and openness to synergy. And remember it’s never just the words, or the author(!) -The Greeks, The Bard, The Canon, The Classics, The New Wave. If what’s on the page fills and thrills you, what every play deserves is a chance at the alchemy that will make the play a whole living breathing body that will touch the audience (mmm OK, that sounded a bit creepy, but you get my point).  Find the right humanity to make the play, and you will create something that gets seen as much as it deserves.


*Susannah Clapp is not the Guardian’s only theatre critic, be sure to check out other critics’ takes on the year. 


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