A cultural binge.

Published by: mike on 15th Jul 2017 | View all blogs by mike

     Theatre is an interest of mine and I have been on a cultural binge over the past few weeks. I  will have to de-tox over the weekend.  For travel reasons I go to the London West End.

       The plays I  have recently seen, with the exception of Hamlet, are new plays by contemporary  playwrights.   Two of these are written and directed by women.  But most of the plays are set in the past.   Queen Anne; the enclosure of the commons - vaguely Regency/Early Victorian; America during the Great Depression; Ireland in the 1970’s - dealing with the time of Bobby Sands; the Middle-east during the time of Pontius Pilate;  America in the 1950’s  (Billy Holliday)  Even a musical with the songs of Meatloaf is really a period piece.  Only one play, by German playwright, has a contemporary setting.

     My choices are totally random.  I go to London in the morning and try to get a day seat - a discounted seat - and tend to go to previews as it is often easier to get a seat before the plays are reviewed.  Of course, I don’t see every play and it is often the fringe that sells out.   I think it might be a coincidence that  the plays I  did see, dealt with historic subjects but I don’t really know.  Perhaps English Literature has gone that way too?

    My  interests are towards English Literature and I tend not to send material to publishers or agents.  I have emailed about three agents in the  past forty years but I wrote as an executor of literary estates and, in this respect I am a non-person. (The agent would be acting for the estate and not me) 

     I think I might be a typecast radio 4 listener.  The last novel I read was ‘A shadow in the Wind’ and I am now reading a biography of Henry Irving.   It is possible that I choose plays that conform to my interests,but the cost of the seat is my major concern.   (I have not seen Mormon or some of the other musicals for this reason)

     I could not see the relevance of some of the plays to any situation today.  Only one of the plays is didactic and another might have had a feminist slant, but this was not stressed.  (These were the plays written and directed by women)

     But isn’t the prevalence of contemporary plays with a historic slant, an argument for studying history?



  • OFP
    by OFP 8 days ago
    I have watched and admired your play reviews over the past few dozen months. You have an enviable knowledge to grasp the deeper meanings from plays and I often think than in much of what I am exposed to, I have missed the implied message from the author, be it songs of U2 to plays of Billy Shakespeare to film such as Steinbeck's Grapes to Wrath.

    i pondered this one in particular as to my own upbringing in the rural American South. Even at the young age of 14, I found it absurd and struggled to identify with the Joads as there seemed to be a belief that the world owed them some courtesy and that there was some overwhelming natural justice which would prevail. I already seemed to know at a visceral level that those were very abstract and constructed concepts and bore no reality in my world.

    Although we were never hungry, I remember asking my older brother as we were hunting what we were having for dinner and he said 'The next fucking thing we shoot.. Now shut up and let's shoot some food, '.

    I seem to draw much different conclusions from books, plays and movies than many here.

    The first play i attended was My Fair Lady with my sister playing the part of Eliza. I was enthralled. The shouting of the lines by the players was alarming to me. The songs, from I Could Have Danced All Night, to I'm Getting Married in the Morning to I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, all mesmerized me. I was transported and entertained and it has stayed with me to this day.

    But I missed the underlying themes of Higgins being a sexual predator, the class struggle of the Victorian poor, and the frivolous lifestyle of the upper class bourgeois of the London Elite.

    I just found it wonderfully entertaining.

    But our teacher chose not to confound our interpretations of the play by giving us the possible variable social implications and just let it settle into us. I will always thank her for that.

    It made me think that perhaps I prefer Turner's work to Picasso.
  • mike
    by mike 7 days ago
    Dear OFP
    Four of these plays are, in affect, musicals. 'Bat Out of Hell' is so OTT it is fun. 'Lady Day at Emerson's bar and Grill' is based around the songs of Billy Holliday. ( The theater has been turned into a night club and a jazz trio comprises the cast - along with one of America’s finest actresses)
    ‘ The Girl from the North Country ‘ is a play by Conor Macpherson. It is set just after the Great Depression. I found it a rather sad and moving but the songs of Bob Dylan can be.
    I think it might be a great hit with Bob Dylan fans. But I don’t know? It is as much a musical as ‘My Fair Lady’ which is Bernard Shaw’s script with songs added.
    But I do think some of the other plays require a knowledge of the period in which they are set.
  • mike
    by mike 6 days ago
    I suspect the prevalence of modern plays with a historic setting is just a coincidence. Queen Anne is written and directed by women. Of course the story is told from the point of view of the female protagonists but I can't say there was any feminist slant to the play. I read a chapter from a history of the Stuarts before I went, and the play remains true to the accepted story. But the history I had was written in the Edwardian era. The play about 'Salome' saw the story entirely from 'Salome's loin of view.but I was confused by this play, as I was by the story about land enclosure, It seemed more a play about pagan rituals.
  • mike
    by mike 5 days ago
    London theatre might conform to literature trends. Harry Potter is the big London hit and then Wicked, Alladin, Matilda, etc. These are popular family shows. Then there are what are called Jukebox musicals, Carol King is the popular show but there is Thriller, Stomp, the Girls, Mowtown and many more, My random sample did include musicals but there are three Webber musicals staged at the moment, I tend to pick plays but even here, the genre is confused. And, had I done the sample for the previous month, most of the plays I saw were revivals, Shakespeare, Albee, Brecht etc
    The Dylan show only has a short run at the Old Vic. It might well move to another theatre, perhaps even to America, Bat out of Hell is still on - till August - but then it is going abroad.
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