After another evening as Front of House staff (read here about what it’s like in such a job), I was again allowed to sit on the back row and watch the show for free. It was a performance of David Eldridge’s Festen, put on by 3rd year Acting students from the on-campus Drama School. It was an incredible show, hard-hitting, and emotional, focused around a father’s birthday party and a harrowing revelation by one of his sons. Themes of hypocrisy, deceit, and sexual abuse were given their due credit by a very talented cast.
However, it got me thinking whether there are some instances when theatre gets it wrong, and it all gets a bit too much? After the show, there were collections taken for the Rape and Sexual Abuse Council, but I couldn’t help noticing that the play did nothing to encourage me to necessarily contribute to anything. I did not feel moved to the extent that I felt I had to go out and change the world. Needless to say, it was a difficult play to watch, and I was definitely stirred by it. But if the purpose was to give people the motivation to stand up, I feel the only thing that got me to my feet was an ovation to the actors. Therefore, was the intensity on stage actually excessive, as it did not provide the end result?
I realise that I may be alone in such a thought – on the way out, a number of patrons dropped coins in buckets as they left with a strange quiet that often follows particularly emotional plays.
A few years ago, Theatre Delicatessen staged Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur, another incredibly tense play though on a different theme. I left the theatre (or rather abandoned flat) somewhat in a state of shock, unsure how to continue or what to take from it. Was the point purely to shake people and get them to think inwardly? If so, then yes, it did achieve that to a certain extent – I became suddenly aware of the world around me. But it was all so much that after a few days, it became something I laughed about with relief, knowing it was ‘just a play’. Of course, Festen, speaks on a subject that is unfortunately but undoubtedly a common occurence. However plays such as War Horse and Reading Hebron, which stir up many thoughts and feelings, leave a lasting impression and an unusual drive to ensure those things don’t happen again. It is in their subtlety which begins to impact you whilst you barely notice that I find more captivating.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and the actors themselves were phenomenal. There is no doubt whatsoever that it takes very strong people to play such a shocking script in a way that does not become melodramatic. But that stunned silence within the auditorium afterwards… is that the end goal? Does that mean that those lines and actions will remain with us for months to come, or have we just been overwhelmed in the moment? Maybe theatre does not need to reach a particular conclusion or movement – maybe it is purely there to tell one side of a story, and see what you draw from it alone.
NB: This is a debate I’ve often thought about, but am yet to decide upon. Here, I am stating one side as an initial response to the play. It is not necessarily my finite idea, but I am open to question and explore other responses.