lain Heggie, one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, feels that we’ve got into some philosophical bad habits when we watch theatre.
For all the supposed touchy feelyness of our age we live in a time when our controlling conscious minds are demanding higher status than ever. People leaving the theatre are on the one hand anxious to be ready with a verbal response, but on the other they are anxious not to make a fool of themselves. Not to be seen to have ‘misunderstood’. It is at these high pressure moments where the mind goes to work to re-write the response the audience member actually had into the one they ought to have had.
Most of us spend a large part of our lives in educational institutions. Commentators who respond well to the socialisation of school and university have a vested interest in studying rather than experiencing the action of a play. The side effect of this is an over- emphasis on surface. Too many commentators still think a play is about what the characters say rather than the total effect of the action.
A drama is a specific high stakes situation brought to the point of climax. That is, the moment when the main character/s go as far as they conceivably can and take maximum risk to achieve their aim. But we are taught to think of all fictional art in thematic rather than dramatic terms.
I’ve never had direct experience of a play — thematic or otherwise - that advances my thinking about anything. It is, of course, beneath me to be snide about the variation in people’s responses to works of art but it is people who claim to have their intellects stimulated by theatre should really and truly get out more. Or even just read a book some time.
The ‘serious’ theatre audience likes nothing better than pontificating about what the play says. As if the only thing that matters is what the playwright thinks. This is the mischief of the conscious mind at work, enhancing its status. Stand still and say what you think, Mr Playwright, so I can agree or disagree with you. This is the ultimate denial of the existence of both the unconscious and the associated contradictions we are
SEMI-BIOGRAPHICAL PLAY VINCENT IN BRIXTON Byre Theatre, St Andrews until Sat
17 Jul 0...
Lend him your ear
The personal life of troubled artists is often as much a talking point as their work. Van Gogh. in particular. pops up every now and again in books and documentaries aiming to explain his turbulent mind. But do they really allow us to empathise. or does the 'insight' actually widen the gap between the unstable genius and the average man? In his Olivier Award-Winning play Nicholas Wright portrays the early life of the widely discussed painter. concluding that it is those familiar aspects of humanity. love and despair. that drive not only artistic ability but also Our everyday existence.
In Brixton in 1873. a young and rather innocent Van Gogh (Mark Van Eeuwen) lodges With a family while working as an art dealer. Initially enamoured With his landlady‘s daughter Eugenie (Jo Freer). Vincent finds his relationship With the lady of the house (Noreen Leightoni and an increasing self-awareness to be the starting point of his artistic career.
all riven with. Art helps us to tolerate these contradictions. The conscious mind in all its manifestations, including the university, public debate and most branches of journalism, does not. It is as though a play is an episode of Question Time, rather than a relief from it. This is another version of what Saul Bellow says academics do to great novels, reducing masterpieces to discourse.
One of the purposes of any work of art is to liberate us from the battle within us between the conscious and unconscious mind. To suggest that the play is an intellectual or moral statement is not only blatantly untrue - it is directly contrary to the basic needs of the audience. A play which from the off has its ‘heart in the right place’, no matter how structurally ‘innovative’ it might happen to be can rarely do more than affirm the prejudices of the journalist or the audience at large. It cannot address the audience’s real hunger to have acknowledged the terrifying power of the unconscious. This is not to suggest that the audience’s wish for escapism - that is that the main character achieves their goals without any struggle - should be indulged. Fulfilling the audience’s wishes often betrays the audience’s needs.
Disastrous or mediocre productions of my work notwithstanding, the only response to it I’ve ever felt told me the truth about how successful or otherwise I have been is how the audience lives with it in performance.
Wright takes certain facts from Van Gogh's letters home. together wrth the poetic licence drama allows. to turn history into a captivating piece of naturalistic theatre. A complex and meaty debut for new artistic director of the Byre. Stephen Wrentmore. who directs With the attention to detail required by the intense script. Van Eeuwen does well in portraying the naive young artist. and certainly iooks the part. Strong support is given to both himself and Le:ghton. whose enthralling performance as the depressed and selfless landlady is the real focus of the piece. Monika Nispet's naturalistic kitchen set. together with. clever directorial decisions such as real food cooked by the characters on stage. creates a cornfortabie intimacy With themes such as the place of the artist. mental illness and forbidden deSIre. there may be slightly too many heth issues to take away any one strong message. but the duality of performance is certainly worth the trip to St Andrews. Quietly moVing. the play provrdes a glimpse of an artist when he was simply a man. ilvleg Watson:
Re: Treading the Boards Whispers is always up for a babefest. so. under the guise of exploring his feminine self. and in the absence of Alpha. or even Omega. males he slunk down to a new network set up for women in Scottish theatre. But at Queen Margaret University College's Gateway theatre complex. he found two or three men. about a hundred women. and much food for thought. Women in Theatre Scotland. no doubt soon to be known by its acronym WlTS. has much of value to say to females in the profession. Sure. I know y0u might give the popular post-feminist argument ab0ut this particular struggle being over. but the facts seem to contradict this. While some of the issues are different many (money. access to senior positions in the arts) are very much the same. The theatre workers present were not a bunch of 80s women in boots and dungarees. but some of the more vital folks in the professon. Post-feminism. in many of its manifestations. might well have caused some sliding back from the hard victories won in the 70s and 80s A year ago. I was told by a prominent female director that if she never had to touch another play about ‘Women moaning on about being women“. her life would be enriched. for the gender war was over.
The fact is. though, as Maggie Kinloch. director of the Gateway. pointed out in her address to this healthy assemblage. in 1990. the time of her appointment as artistic director of the Byre theatre. there were five female artistic directors of companies in Scotland. Now only one remains. in the person of Muriel Romanes of Stellar Quines. a womens' theatre company. Have contemporary gender ideologies allowed a problem to re-emerge. which was never eliminated. but in abeyance a decade or so ago? WITS will create an informal network to discuss this. and all other matters pertaining to women in the professon. It can be joined free. by e-mailing Wits2004@breathe.com. Whispers recommends it. whatever your views.
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