Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Play's the Thing

As has become clear from my blog entries in 2011 I have started going to the theatre a lot more, and this has changed my reading habits somewhat too.

In some ways I am reading more as a lot of the plays I've seen have been in London and so I get about 4 hours of reading time on the train, well except when I go the roundabout route so I can travel with friends - then not so much reading gets done!

In a more profound way going to the theatre is changing my reading habits because I am reading a lot of the plays in advance of seeing them. Some of them I am reading because I have no previous idea of the plot and I like to be a little aware in advance and in other cases it is because I have read one thing by the playwright and just have to read more.

I don't quite understand why I am enjoying reading the plays so much as well as seeing them.

It is totally counter to how feel about books v film after all. I am wondering if it is perhaps because in a play you do tend to just get the dialogue and no background and it takes the actual performance to fill that in, where as with a novel my brain creates the whole world for me and then the adaptation never lives up to this.

I only studied English to GSCE level and we did read two plays then - An Inspector Calls and Romeo and Juliet - I don't recall what I really thought of them at the time, but as we only had the scripts in class and read them communally I am sure that the experience was probably a little excruciating. We also watched the film versions of the plays and again neither did anything for me as I remember. It probably didn't help that due to lesson lengths the films were split into 3 or 4 parts to fit the timetable!

The first play that really touched me was the one we studied for German A-Level - Max Frisch's Andorra. I think that we read it in the original German but I do know that it was being performed somewhere in London at the time and we went to see it. Googling has not helped in this case but thinking back on it now I do recall the whole thing coming to life so vividly. It was the first time I had seen a live play and not a musical and certainly the first time I'd see a play that I had read. I know that the two complemented each other perfectly.

Last autumn I had a similar experience when I saw Aeschylus's Agamemnon in Cambridge. I had read the play in translation a few years ago but seeing this version in the original language (which I don't speak) was amazing. I knew the story and that was enough to get the idea of the play, the language just flowed over me and although possibly not something I will do regularly (not least because the Greek Play season only happens every three years!) I was swept away in the story. Something I wouldn't have been if I hadn't read it before.

The more I think about why I like reading and seeing plays the more ideas are coming to me. Live theatre holds my attention far more than a film does. At home I rarely give my whole attention to a film, I'll flit about and read as well as watching. In the cinema I rarely relax into the experience, and if the film is 3D I am even worse as the glasses have to sit over my own and peering through 2 pairs (or the 3D visuals) always gives me a headache.

In a theatre however there are real life people just a few metres from me giving their all. Each performance has to be slightly different as actors are humans and not pre-programmed robots and usually there are other details, such as set and lighting, to take in as well as the words.
There is something very special and personal about the whole proceeding.

At the moment I have just finished reading Emperor and Galilean in advance of seeing it at the National Theatre later in the year and have Lady in the Van, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Much Ado About Nothing (version at the Globe), Twelfth Night and the Tempest lined up. I've also snuck in a reading of Flare Path as I'd love to see that if I can fit it in!

Thank heavens I work in the library and can get my books for free and spend my money on tickets!

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