by Michael

This has been a curiously retrospective weekend for me. Even the weather has felt plucked from decades past. The bleached sunniness of Saturday made me think of the 1970s – not from any personal recognition (I was born in 1976), but just something about the quality of the light, the quietness of the roads near where I live (it was Sabbath for the large community of orthodox Jews in the neighbourhood which means they were not driving their cars) and the muted anguish of the boy who banged his head on the pavement bollard. He left blood on the pavement, having run off, home, one hopes, screaming.

I wasn’t so close to the incident to assist or even to know exactly what had happened. A couple of people had been closer and were discussing it in heightened emotional terms by the time I reached them. That too made it feel as if it was from another age. No one was phoning for an ambulance from their mobile, or filming the event on their smartphone. Our ignorance of what had happened and whether there was anything that could be done felt anachronistic. The ‘violence’ also resonated for me with my quintessential summer’s day, some years ago, which was defined by walking in a park with the close-but-distant shouts of excited and possibly injured children….

But why did it feel like the 70s? I said it was something to do with the light. Maybe the way films and TV shows from or depicting the 70s are shot in a way that looks like that?

I think there is a certain effect of the ubiquity of camera/screen-based entertainment in my life. It influences how I see the world even when it is not through a camera lens. On a similar note, the relationship between TV and film is, I think, based on film quality and lighting, in that we are aware of what distinguishes these qualities in standard films and on standard TV programmes. Charlie Brooker wrote in the Guardian recently about this – how the increasing quality (technically speaking) of TV news footage is bringing it closer, aesthetically at least, to what we are used to seeing in films. Does this have consequences for how we perceive the news? Or how we perceive fictional films?

I don’t think I’m being terribly clear here. A different tack – I think films have a particular capacity to present fictional stories as ‘real’ not so much because of special effects (we are all so media-savvy that we understand that events on screen are routinely ‘faked’ or doctored while what performers say is scripted, if not entirely then at least to some degree) but just because the medium looks so much like the prime medium through which we learn about the real world, ie the TV news. In that sense, theatre cannot represent ‘reality’ as well as cinema or even TV, but it can, I hope, be more real, in that there is no medium between the action and the audience in the theatre. What happens in the theatre is real, even when it depicts fictions or fakery.

In the press release I wrote for the best play I ever produced – Invitation to a Beheading – I said that it was a “true story”. This was a bit cheeky but I meant it honestly. Not that it was ‘based on a true story’, but that the actual actions presented to the audience carried their own story as much as the story that was being depicted or represented by those actions.

Some time after the production of the play, I wrote of it (somewhat egotistically, I suppose, although I generally credit the production’s success not to me but to the five extremely talented people I was working with) that: “The theatricality starts in the stylised representation of certain elements that are acknowledged as real by the characters, and that the audience then perceive to be conventions within the play. A spider drawn on the wall represents a spider in the cell; turning a key represents locking the door; a blackout represents time passing. But the theatricality of this fiction, these representations, is undermined as the play continues, as a greater extent of the ‘convention’ is revealed. The protagonist ignores the blackout; the door is discovered to be ‘locked’ only for one of the characters; the spider gains a human mouth, a body, legs.

“We realise that the picture of the spider was never intended to represent ‘a spider’ but that what is being shown to the audience is somebody’s attempt to represent a spider to the protagonist. So the audience, having (willingly) suspended their disbelief, discover that no one was asking them to, that everything here is real, is as they perceive it to be, truly.”

So, largely because of the ubiquity of television, in my life at least, as the prime medium for presenting fictional drama, I like it when theatre steers away from trying to convince us that its fictions are real and comes closer to giving us an experience that is unashamedly ‘real’.

In other recollections this weekend, I revisited the Discreet Dictionary and uploaded a number of definitions. I am going to include there some extracts from a series of 12 monologues I wrote, which was called Punctuated Saints. It was the basis of a performance workshop once upon a time but has since languished in my files. I really like a lot of the pieces, though, and want to share them. See Punctuation for the first.

And, of course, this blog has itself been recollected for the first time in many many weeks. Other things got busy and I got tired and the blog is always the first to be put on hold. Hopefully the next interval between posts will be shorter.