Sunday, February 12, 2006

Odds and Ends

All of this talk about In-Yer-Face theatre got me to thinking. To generalize an entire genre without reading or seeing much of it seems a bit risky, and so I'll ask you all to look past the Sierz book (although it is a good resource to complement the experience). The shock tactics that got people up in arms have now taken on their own energy, separated from the plays that birthed them. It seems dangerous to give fragments such a power of their own. Go back to Bond's Saved and Brenton's the Romans in Britain. All you hear about these works centers on one of their respective scenes: the baby in the carriage, and the soldiers raping the young man, right? Read the damn plays, and you might realize that these scenes are not necessarily the most brutal statements within them, nor are the plays themselves necessarily brutal. But the acknowledgement of violence and obscenity are integral.

Edward Bond explains: "Violence shapes and obsesses our society, and if we do not stop being violent we have no future. People who do not want writers to write about violence want to stop them writing about us and our time. It would be immoral not to write about violence."

And Bond himself refers to Saved as a work of incredible, hopeless optimism.

Sarah Kane? A Romantic at heart. Look at the final line of Blasted, where a simple "Thank you" is proof of the extreme humanity at the source of the entire affair, all babies eaten and rapes aside.

These aren't all plays constructed to capitalize on shock and disgust. It isn't just violence for the sake of violence. Not every contemporary playwright is trying to be purposefully provocative; sometimes they actually mean what they are writing. These are elements of our experience, honestly and truthfully depicted with nothing held back, and carefully brought into focus.


At the tiny Gate theatre in Notting Hill, you will find a heartfelt and resonant production of Strindberg's last play, The Great Highway. Rare productions like this will get any dramaturg in a state of excitement. Oddly enough, this was my first station drama, and its status as such intimidated me...that is, until the production unfolded. The traditional stations were replaced by a staggered and overlapping system of gigantic photographs, the images lost to almost all of them and the corners curled with age, and it is here the action unfolds. The proximity of actors to audience in this tiny black box made it strangely and hauntingly accessible. The text itself ebbs and flows with Strindberg's poetry and prose, made immediate by the remarkable lead. We follow this man on his journey through memory, and are rewarded by the things he meets along the way, even unto himself at the close. It is a long play, but an investment in art and classic means that we should be careful not to lose sight of in the theatre we make today.

The Great Highway continues through March 4 at the Gate Theatre.


Blogger Justin Kownacki said...

I suppose we can't stop people from isolating sections of art from their respective contexts, though. Much the same as a flower is a flower whether in a garden, a bouquet or a solitary vase, a rape is a rape whether as one of hundreds of actions in a drama, as the central conceit of a one-act, or as a contextless action meant to disrupt a captive audience. Artists who don't choose to couch their work within a context see the brutal emotional impact of an image or a word, positive or negative, and cling to that emotion without realizing that it's powerless to affect us without a context in the first place.

Everyone brings their own context to a work. Unleashing a stream of profanity or a depiction of violence upon an unsuspecting audience will at least generate a visceral reaction because, when denied a fictitious and allegorical context to process the images and words through, the audience falls back on the one context all artists can rely on their audiences to provide independently: experience. Thus, the artist with nothing (or comparatively little) to say can sleep assured in the knowledge that he or she was able to provoke a monkey into mimicking its own past and pass it off as a profound connection of the human spirit.

Do we stop making violent plays? Only when we stop making violence. Agreed.

2:15 AM  
Blogger MattJ said...

Nice post, thanks Annie. It's very difficult to believe that those playwrights and theatre artists who portray the most violence do so to promote it (nor, likely, just to make money like in Hollywood). But someone needed to articulate that, cheers.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Scott Walters said...

Annie, you missed my point, which was not about the playwrights, but about Sierz's description of the new "style." I purposely did not address the plays themselves. I think "Saved" is a brilliant play, as is (to a lesser extent) "Romans in Britain." They used violence for a purpose. Sierz's gleeful description is juvenile, and that is what I was reacting to.

7:25 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home