Sunday, March 15, 2009

Conspiracy and Theatricality

Anne Nicholson Weber reminded me of this great excerpt from her interview with the great Nicholas Hytner in Upstaged.  

Throughout the history of the theatre, theatre artists have wanted to provoke their audience using alienating devices such as masks, boys playing girls, dance, verse dialogue -- devices which quite plainly do not produce a literal image of the world outside. They say, “This isn’t the real world, this is a poetic image of the real world through which we can agree to discover stuff about the real world” -- exactly the same way as if I am a Shakespeare heroine, I have to put on man’s clothes, to be not myself, in order to discover who I am and where I fit in the world. What we’re doing here is conspiring together: let’s make our world not the real world in order to discover what the real world is like.

I don’t think this is a feature of film as a form, but it is of the stage. And over and over again, you see theatre artists pushing this as hard as they can. What flashes in my mind is an example from the play I’m working on at the moment, The Winter’s Tale. I’ve not counted them, but seven or eight times in the last act, in preparation for his final coup when the statue of Hermione comes to life, Shakespeare has someone say, “This is like an old tale”, “This is a mouldy old tale”, “This is like an old tale still”, “If this were shown you on the stage you’d hoot at it.” He keeps insisting, “What I’m showing doesn’t make any sense, it’s not real,” drawing attention to the unreality of it, because he’s written 35 plays by now and he knows that we will believe, and in fact that the more that he tells us that we won’t believe, the bigger the shock and the huger and more resonant the thrill when we do. And at the end of an evening, the more you feel that you’ve achieved something -- that something has been required of your imagination and you’ve given it -- the better you feel.


It's interesting to me that he uses the terms "alienation" and "conspiracy" in such close proximity and in some sense to refer to the same thing.  What gets alienated in this context is the story, the actors reinforce their relationship with the audience at the expense of their relationship with the narrative.  Fantastic. 

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