Theatre in Wales

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Theatre: "the interaction of human beings and social forces.”

Theatre Director Book

John McGrath- A Good Night Out , Eyre Methuen , May 10, 2010
Theatre Director Book by John McGrath- A Good Night Out “A Good Night” dates from 1981. Its subtitle is “Popular Theatre: Audience, Class and Form”. It has another subtitle in the more forbidding “Contemporary Theatre and the Mediation of Reality”. That is indicator that the setting is an academic one.

But McGrath's language is expressive and spoken. “I am here today...every Wednesday” he writes. The short book is a bracing, clear-cut guide to a significant director's values as put to work.

Reflections like these, he says, can become “autobiographical, egocentric, even at times megalomaniac”. He lays down the gauntlet in his first words. As for the lectures' title “I could have called them “Telling the Story” because that's what theatre does.”

There are brickbats handed out. He thinks the late plays of Edward Bond “smack more of posterity-hunting than theatre-making.” He dislikes David Storey and “the Contractor”. He denounces journalists and TV executives whose names have passed into history's mist. But these are digressions from what he likes.

He promotes directness. “A working-class audience likes to know exactly what you are trying to do or say to it.” “Working class audiences like laughs”. But with a proviso. “Comedy has to be sharper, more perceptive and more deeply related to their lives.” As an audience they “like music in shows, live and lively...they like melody above all.”

The content and the method are clear. McGrath also pinpoints what it is all for.

“Theatre is the place where the life of a society is shown in public to that society...where that society's assumptions are exhibited and tested, its values are scrutinised, its myths are validated, and its traumas become emblems of its reality rather than a place to experience a rarefied artistic sensibility in an aesthetic void...It shows the interaction of human beings and social forces.”

Audiences can laugh but decent comedy is sharp.

“Any serious piece of theatre...questions all assumptions...scrutinises contemporary reality with a sense of history and without fear of engaging in politics.”

Theatre is about audience and he lists “the specific qualities in a work that allow it to pass from one mind to another. These qualities are to do with this emotional struggle-trajectory, this playing out of the deeply felt, the profoundly personal, through the other layers of theatre: through observed, social manners dissected, through conflict of classes and interests and so on.”

As for those tempted to turn away from those for whom theatre is intended no director has used a language to equal: “love of audience....it can be a critical love, an aggressive love, but if it turns to indifference, cynicism, hate, or simply exploitation, then the theatre-maker will turn into a solipsist or a psychopath.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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