Sunday, 30 April 2017

Plays vs musicals


You all know I visit the theatre a lot. For me it vaguely resembles an addiction. If I spot an advert for something that I will enjoy, I will most likely book it straight away, on the spot. I can't help it. But as I always tell my mother - it's better to be addicted to the theatre rather than alcohol or drugs or cigarettes.

I have noticed something which has surprised me though. Despite the fact I am a writer, I have a tendency to veer towards musicals. 9 times out of 10, it is a musical that I book rather than a play or anything else.

Musicals definitely have their place - they are fun and entertaining and are brilliant escapism. In short, they are everything I look for when I am yearning for the relaxation that I know I will find in the theatre. But every time I attend a play, I do find myself wondering why I don't see more of them.

Maybe it's due to attending relatively few that those which do tempt me are always so excellent. They drive me to share in experiences that I would never have come across otherwise and they always make me think and feel something. On top of which, they often have such entertaining narratives, played out by a whole host of varied characters. I always find them intellectually stimulating. And inspiring too. I rarely leave a play without the urge to go straight home and write one myself.

A couple of months ago, I saw Sex with Strangers at the Hampstead Theatre starring Theo James and Emilia Fox. In theory this was not a very good play. The plot was mediocre. Therefore the acting was unexpectedly mediocre too as they were constantly fighting with such stodgy dialogue. Even the direction - something which would normally pass me by completely - was noticeably awful as I became distracted by the constant pointless movement of the actors who flitted around each other and around the stage. I shouldn't have liked it at all.

BUT...

I actually did. Because it made me feel something right at the end. Having not cared about the relationship the whole way through, I was unexpectedly moved to tears when Olivia was trying to choose between her ex and her current boyfriend. Why? It was Emilia Fox's stricken face as she dithered. Great acting.

And it did make me think as well. The whole play was based around writing and blogging and becoming a successful novelist and all the trials which surround that choice of career - what you have to sacrifice to be successful; what you have to do to make it in the industry. It's something that relates to me and therefore I could get on board with the entire play.

And that's what I need out of plays. I need them to make me feel.

Most recently I went to see Forty Years On at Chichester Festival Theatre, starring the legend that is Richard Wilson. And it did exactly that. Through an inventive use of direction, dance and of course, stellar acting it packed an emotional punch that I wasn't expecting. Bennet is a top playwright. A funny playwright who takes the everyday, comments on it and makes you think/feel about it. And Daniel Evans, through his skilful direction, made it relevant to today as well.

This was Bennett's first play and the first time I watched it, I found it a little hard to swallow. I was so busy trying to work out what the play was doing that I missed a lot of its charm. But the second time, I was able to appreciate the sketches for what they were - sketches simply depicting human life and playing it back to you in a funny way.

That's what made it both so wonderful and gave me the emotional smack in the face. Humans don't change. Whether you look at humans in the 1900s, 1940s, (the two eras the play within the play was set) 1960s (the decade the play was actually set in) or now, we are all the same. We all get sad, we all fight each other, we all get drunk, we all love and lose and smile and laugh and worry...we are wonderful yet horrendous and we are totally consistent.

This play made me think about the world I live in, the history that it has and the legacy I am upholding. It made me shed a little tear and left me breathless in a way that a musical rarely can.

I am not trying to say that a musical does not make me feel for the characters. It does and I can become fully immersed in the characters' stories. But I rarely find myself relating my own life to them. It's like reading a really entertaining novel and I am simply there to enjoy the world it has created for me. Undeniably, that manages to suck me in every time. But plays suck me in too, in a completely different way. And, thinking about it yet again, I definitely should go to more!

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