Sunday, January 29, 2006


One of the student actors asks me how he can reconcile the apparent contradictions that are emerging in the character he's developing for Dis-Orientations. I find myself committing what must amount to heresy in a Stanislavski-based drama school, and telling him he shouldn't even try. One of the many joys of devised work is that the characters only emerge at the end, once we've decided what to do with them in the play. So the artificial pressure to be consistent just isn't there. Character consistency is actually a false way of seeing the world, which maybe has its theoretcial roots in Freud and certainly has its theatrical roots in the System. But the reality is surely that we create our own characters out of the myriad available possibilities, and that we constantly astonish ourselves and others by behaving "out of character", when another of our possible selves emerges.

I'm reminded of this conversation when I go to see Robert Lepage perform The Andersen Project at the Barbican. As with all his solo presentations, this is a deconstruction of his own personality through the presentation of several "characters" (each of whom reflects / shadows the others), and an essay in loneliness. There's no consistency here, although there is psychological insight in buckets. And theatrical transformation - which is always the key to seeing theatre work as the metaphor of our self-creation. Lepage's work has got much more technologically sophisticated (and expensive) since The Dragon's Trilogy and Needles and Opium; but tonight too the moments which really astonish are the simplest of theatrical effects, as when he performs the Andersen story of The Shadow with the help of a bedside lamp and a top hat. The magic is in the simplicity.

Heresy number two. I've been appearing on various panels recently; and I'm getting really fed up with it. Because nobody seems to want to talk about what's actually interesting and exciting in the theatre any more. It's always a discussion of how we can reach out to communities, or involve young people, or facilitate the careers of emerging artists, or find appropriate funding. All this is fine, but they have become ends in themselves, and nobody is asking with what we should reach out - why there's any point in bringing people to this thing called theatre - what it is that we actually want to say. In our blandly commodified, consumerist, exploitative, "New Labour" era, we have to offer theatre which offers genuine depth in the face of the crassness, and which empowers politically and democratically in the face of our dis-franchisement. If we become obsessed with the means and forget the ends, forget even that there are ends, then we should not be having the discussion at all.

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