Political Stage / Theatre Stage: Where does reality end and entertainment begin?

By Chris Tapner, Poole 

Maggie the musical

Margaret Thatcher died today. A curious Monday morning soon after Easter.

The reactions are coming through thick and fast, either distinctly joyous or sincerely sober.

In a matter of hours it seems to have become an event in its own right. Where were you when you found out? It’s something we all knew would happen and now it suddenly has, leaving a bitter taste in some mouths, and a sweet one in others. It’s at once a very real thing, but also infinitely theatrical.

Currently referenced in two productions on the West End stage, meeting Helen Mirren’s Queen in ‘The Audience’, and being musically lampooned by dancing miners in ‘Billy Elliot The Musical’.

There are certain actors who will have a lot resting on their shoulders tonight.

Thatcher on the ‘political stage’ is fast emerging as the perfect tool for examining the relevance of the ‘theatrical stage’ in today’s society. In a culture of fast DVD entertainment and desensitisation to death, how do we react when it actually happens?

Where is the line between pantomime villain and actual villain drawn?

The town of Poole where I live and work is a Conservative area, and I can see the loss of the Baroness being felt to a great extent. At the local arts centre in 2004 we hosted a satirical revue called ‘Margaret Thatcher The Musical’, a raucous piece of vaudeville that culminated in a giant effigy of Maggie advancing on the audience singing her heart out.

The bar after the event was heaving with excitement at what had just been witnessed.

People thrashing out post show ideas, unsure whether what they had seen was offensive or genius, but either way certain that for an hour and forty minutes they had been part of something exhilarating.

leaflet

It gets me thinking about where arts in my area has come since that production, and where it is going next. The Spring season has been sparse in quantity, but high on quality. We’ve hosted children’s productions, vintage revivals, and a fascinating one man show 14th Tale by Inua Ellams from Fuel Theatre.

Interest in the piece was initially slow as the flyer was too ambiguous. People in the community were asked why they wouldn’t want to book for the show, the majority claimed that ‘it’s not my thing’. How do people know it’s not their thing if they are not prepared to see it? Curiosity eventually grew and attracted a large and diverse crowd.

Audiences in my area are clever, but somewhat underestimated. Opinions get lost. There is a strange mix of obligation, wanting to be entertained, and frustration at having to go through the process of booking. Customers being involved in the administration of their own enjoyment seems to stifle the heart of the artwork, and makes me wonder whether more improvised performances would be the best tonic for theatre in my neighbourhood.

At school I remember learning some of Samuel Beckett’s stream of consciousness monologues. I’d love to read them publicly in unexpected places and see what kind of effect if any that they had.

For those people unsure of what they want to see, maybe theatre makers should do purposefully pointless theatrical exercises. How about setting a production of ‘Abigail’s Party’ in the modern day? It would certainly lose some of its original kudos but maybe gain a new level of as yet undiscovered value.

I feel the way forward is for people to talk as much as they can about what they’ve seen, be it good or bad, audiences and theatre makers can keep theatre alive in a community simply by word of mouth, the greatest marketing tool.

Theatre in Poole often feels secondary to events happening in the capital city, ‘always the bridesmaid but never the bride’. Unlike ‘The Iron Lady’ Poole has shown the capacity to be turned, but similar to her, has shown it is not the dowdy spinster that it initially appears to be.

Chris is a writer who lives and works in Poole

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