This article has the danger of making me sound like a bit of an arse. Although that’s probably a fairly good evaluation, I thought I’d preface with the disclaimer that this blog wasn’t inspired by anything in particular but by a general shift that I’ve sensed recently as much in my own work as anything I’ve seen (to the point of adding a sticky note to my computer monitor before the somewhat lacklustre adhesive let it fall to the floor).
I’m worried plays are becoming more boring. Or rather, I’m worried that playwrights aren’t taking enough care to avoid the one thing that can be fatal to a play. And it is certainly ‘plays’ (by which I mean here shows written by a writer and then staged by a creative team) that seem to be more prevelant on the diagnosis list than work made through other creative processes. When an ensemble or companies create work on their feet, anything ‘boring’ rarely makes it to the end of the day, but for the playwright sat solitary at a desk, it’s easier to let our greatest foe creep his way in to our writing.
We’re consuming narrative from increasing sources. TV, film, books, video games, theatre etc etc. Each medium has a particular area where it shines and Theatre seems to have identified BIG ISSUES as the thing which it’s going to hold close to its chest and run with. This is something I am totally okay with and perhaps the work that, as an audience member, I seek out most. For where better to discuss the large stuff than in a communal space among others? Yet this comes with its dangers.
The Economy on its own isn’t a barrel of laughs and Voting Reform doesn’t come out of the packet as a fun evening out. Now, I’m under no illusion that to say that they have the potential to be is in any way prophetic, but its somewhat harder to find the warmth, humour and character in Society’s Relationship with Religion as it is in a man walking into a pet shop with a dead parrot in his hand. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a dry play about any of these topics but when starting from a theme more at home on BBC Parliament than BBC Two (or Three…), one has to tread carefully. When I think through my favourite plays, which
aren’t exactly a controversial collection, they all combine the BIG ISSUES with plenty of chuckles. Often I spent the majority of my time in the auditorium giggling and it isn’t until I have time to think it through later that I have time to find the life-changing observations of the nature of life.
So I’ve made a bit of a pledge to myself. Perhaps something I already thought I was doing but something which I’m now going to keep firmly in my conscious when writing (with or without the help of Post-It’s finest). I am introducing a programme of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Boring in my work. Even as a massive politics nerd, I would rather see a night full of nob-gags than a show which discusses something incredible but communicates it through a thick sludge of technical language or linguistic deconstructions of opposing arguments. Often, the line between playwright and polemicist becomes blurred, mainly because we’re a pretty angry bunch. But there’s a clear distinction – where polemicists turn people into arguments, we turn arguments into people. And people make nob-gags.