I’ve been involved in theatre in various ways over the years, writing, directing and acting in plays, watching performances by amateurs and professionals, and scratching my head at some of the things critics have raved about.
There was a time when we’d arrange to go to
weekend and cram in as many plays as we could. In those days it wasn’t cheap
but at least you didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to get even the
cheapest ticket. The problem was, though, that much of what we’d actually
chosen to see – because it had been recommended, well reviewed, or featured a
favourite actor or director – was crap. The house lights went down, the curtain
went up and, within 10 minutes, we knew we’d condemned ourselves to an hour or
so of purgatory until the first interval set us free. London
Simon Russell Beale was brilliant in Richard III but we sat through all of his Hamlet getting more and more angry at the sight of the actors going through the motions. An American visitor in front of us fell asleep very early only to leap to her feet and applaud wildly when it was over. All the critics had said it was a brilliant production so I suppose, even though audiences were bored out of their skulls by the insults to their intelligence they were seeing, they were afraid to disagree with the arbiters of taste and excellence.
But that’s just one example, and I’m just saying this to admit that, much, maybe even most of the time, theatre is embarrassingly bad. And that’s a great shame because when it works, it’s unbeatable. Sam West’s Hamlet was a triumph – it made you leave the theatre thinking you were somehow complicit in the nasty politics that had gone on onstage.
Last Friday, though, with my son, I went to the
theatre to see War Horse, and, for nearly three timeless hours, I forgot who I
was and was grabbed by the experience and dragged through most of the emotions
of which I’m capable. The movie may prove to be brilliant – it’s Spielberg
after all – but the beautiful horses he’ll have gathered for his shots won’t
have anything like the realism and character that the puppeteers managed to
give those on the stage. In every single way, the performances, the effects,
the sounds and music, the wholeness of the thing were astonishing. We watched a
cavalry charge in World War I, horses fighting for supremacy in a paddock, the
transformation of an awkward young colt into a big thoroughbred in an instant –
and all of these creatures were being manipulated by people. But, within minutes,
I stopped seeing the people and only saw horses. New London
I always make my blogs too long and, if I tried to convey even a part of the full experience, I’d need this to be even longer, so take a quick look at this trailer for the stage play, not the movie, and you’ll get a tiny fraction of a glimpse of a mind-blowing experience (my words are so inadequate for things such as this). It’s beyond analysis so, if you get the chance to see it on stage, sell everything you have to get a ticket. It's an astonishing, visceral, truly cathartic experience.