What is theatre? What do we want from it?

There are many forms of theatre in many different cultures. 

Should it be more physical than cerebral? 

Do we need to get away from text and wordiness? 

In the West, we have by tradition been quite married to text, but there are many physical theatre companies that seek to get away from this. Should theatre seek to entertain or to educate or both? Should it deal with difficult issues or should it be light and fluffy and take us into a world of fantasy where we can escape the trials and tribulations of life? Does anyone want to go to the theatre to see plays about dark issues?

Well, my answer is can be all of these things. Not necessarily all in the same show, but personally I like to be churned up and challenged at the theatre. I like my theatre to confront dark and difficult issues. I want to go home thinking and discussing. To me theatre is so powerful that it can deal with any issue. Nothing is off limits. I once put on “Frozen” by Bryony Lavery. It’s about a paedophile serial killer. The characters are the killer, the mother of one of his victims and his psychiatrist. The play seeks to understand what makes people like Ralph (the killer) who he is. It is based on much scientific research. It’s not an easy watch at all. It is disturbing and very challenging. Yet when I staged it people sat in the bar afterwards and talked nonstop for two hours. Nothing else was talked about. There were some arguments and people didn’t necessarily agree with one another, but they couldn’t stop thinking and talking about it. Job done.


Someone asked why did I wanted to do plays like this. My answer was simple. Where else but the theatre could you discuss something so important for two hours or more without interruption? If the subject were discussed on “Newsnight” there would be say a twenty minute discussion and then the presenter would more onto the next topic.


It has also intrigued me that people will watch films about murderers etc (The Silence of the Lambs was on when I did “Frozen”) and not find this difficult. I asked someone about this and they said it was because theatre is live and that makes it more difficult to watch. Film is a step beyond and one can be moved and involved, but it is nowhere near so visceral and challenging. One can leave more easily or switch off they said. They didn’t feel they could do that in the theatre.

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