I like drama. By drama I mean stories told by live actors. Sometimes it might be drama but it could be comedy. Shakespeare’s “As you like it” comes to mind as one such story. I have enjoyed every performance I have seen. The gruelling tale “Antigone” by Sophocles Is a play I studied while at school. I found the language very difficult but the adult issues, I read and reread attempting to understand, meant nothing to my childish mind.
The same could be said of “The Merchant of Venice” or Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Somehow as a literature student my unformed mind allowed me to write essay on the plot and characters moving on stage without actual comprehension of the importance of the text. The plays might well have had more meaning if I had a chance to see actors perform the work but when left to the text alone they were stiff rigid words.
Actually I was fortunate to be introduced to stage productions when the Tivoli was still open in Melbourne. On a few occasions I saw pantomimes in the summer school holidays. I can remember the excitement of the appearance of the villain on stage. At another level my mother developed a friendship with Joan and Betty Rayner when I was at primary school. They used to visit the local school with their Australian Children’s Theatre (Organisation) each year and live in their caravan at The Park. Their work was busy as they played all parts.
At around the same time the school put on a History pageant one year. It was a big, simple production using all the school to tell British history in one lesson. It was my first appearance on stage and I played King John of Magna Carta fame. Actually I also played the part of a villain as a teenager in a church revue. I left my stage performing from that point until I retired. I joined the Anglesea Players and helped with the annual One Act Play Festival for some years. Occasionally I said a line or two. The pressure of delivering the same line at the same point every performance was too much and I quietly retired again for good.
I did enjoy the play readings and the performances however. As I have said live theatre has an immediacy lost in film and television. For a time we enjoyed acts at The Pram Factory because they met several different criteria of live performance. The work was experimental. It was performed within the same air space as the audience because the actors were almost in our faces. Frequently the work was physical and emotionally challenging. Several times we specifically went to see, local woman, Iris Walsh-Howling give her best.
Despite the fact I enjoy theatre we are not really regular goers. We did get to see an interesting piece at The Edinburgh Festival many years ago and we didn’t understand a word. It was a comedy in Italian. It was a piece in the round. In fact the audience was part of the show as it was spoken in different quarters of the room. We laughed heartily but I couldn’t tell you what it was about except for the fact we enjoyed it.
Just after retirement I regularly watched real drama in the Supreme Court or the Country Court. I simply loved the theatre. I loved the drama of witness examination and cross examination. The enjoyment of language used at its best was wonderful. The passages of banter between the barristers and the court was something lost by most people present but the fast quip between players was clever. Often the charged person had no idea of how their own words would be reused to condemn them to prison. Obviously it is a foreign place most ordinary folk want nothing of but it does seem a reliable way to filter the guilty from the guiltless. This is true whether is is with a jury or judge alone.
I sense live theatre is a little unfair to the artists. Those who deliver the same words for a week or do it week in week out for a year or more, earn but a fraction of film actors. They who might have the luxury of giving a nod today on a second or two of film, may spend a week repeating the same lines before their next scene is finished. Fair or unfair live theatre makes us examine the truth of life as we know it when we experience a play as it unfolds before us. Like any good art, a truth will flick a light on the reality of what it is to be human and not necessarily as we watch it. Such is the power of theatre art.
Photos are from stage plays
David Williamson’s The Club
And One day of the year