Thursday, 10 April 2008

Being Disturbed

I love the theatre and I don't know why I don't go more often (money, maybe!) And it's just like me that when I do get around to going I go twice in as many days. Mind you, the visits couldn't have been more different. Last night I went to see French and Saunders at the Millennium Centre and this afternoon I saw Equus at the New Theatre starring Simon Callow and Alfie Allen. I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences but obviously for quite different reasons!

The ending of French and Saunders was, as you would expect, wonderfully absurd and hilarious with two of their most well known characters taking to the stage for the last time. Before the final punchline Jennifer Saunders had to hide her own laughter: she and they and we knew what was coming next. Things can be funny the second and third and tenth time around. Well, that's good comedy for you! Meanwhile, I would love to see Equus again, and although it has some funny moments the play is far from funny. It's the story of a disturbed 17 year old boy who blinds six horses for no apparent reason, and a psychiatrist who is charged with getting to the bottom of his behaviour. There was so much dialogue (and monologue) and it was packed, of course, with psychological insight, religious imagery, comments on society and what it means to be human, and all the time dealing with a rather disturbing subject with power, sensitivity and understanding. It was an exhausting journey and one that I can thoroughly recommend. At the end of the play it is the Psychiatrist who leaves us with his own baggage and issues: a strange reversal of fortunes.

When theatre leaves you with the wow factor, when it plays with your emotions, when you are on the edge of your seat or you can forget about the people around you and that person in the third row who coughs through the performance then it has done its job. Whilst I was entertained today there was also something else going on. Drama can deal with issues and open up conversation that debate and tired statements often fail to do. Often there is a truth that cannot be easily grasped but is all too well received. You may not know how or what or why but it meets us at a level that is often somewhere hidden away. I could, I suppose, write a summary of Equus and go into more detail with the issues and imagery and detailed dialogue, talk about the great performances (and they were great) but there is something more. Of course, I went to the theatre to be entertained, and entertained I was. But I was also disturbed. Don't get me wrong - we often use that word 'disturbed' to mean something quite negative (a disturbed individual, disturbed sleep, disturbed from work, Do Not Disturb!). But being disturbed can also be a good thing. When we are disturbed we are lifted from where we are or turned around to see the world in another way and pushed or prodded to look at things differently. Equus in that way disturbed me. How wonderful!

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