LOOK AT THE PICTURE. SCRUTINISE IT. QUESTION YOUR EYES AND THEN ANSWER THE QUESTION WITH A "yes, I believe that I am seeing properly."
CLOWN (seated): WHY DID YOU GIVE THE GUITAR TO THE GORILLA???
The show could have been an exercise in sub-undergrad Desperately-Seeking-Python "it's funny because it makes no sense!" type humour. It somehow managed to be something completely other. And it was about theatre, and kind of was theatre, but not as you (probably) know it.
It had me wondering what it is that I think theatre is, which is something I've been mulling over occasionally in the past few days. Apparently I like theatre but I don't like everything I see. I wasn't aware of either of these facts. I had an inkling, I suppose. But neither of those statements is completely accurate.
And then one of my favourite theatre writers/bloggers posted a few thoughts on a similar topic, and I felt inspired to do the same.
Firstly, I think that most theatre is unimportant. I think that it's profoundly and almost irredeemably trivial and irrelevant. This isn't a bad thing, though; in fact, I think one of the most important features of the theatre is, paradoxically, its lack of importance. I can't really think of many life lessons I've learnt from the theatre, and it's pretty rare that I've been educated on something or had an essential opinion altered on anything crucial or had an experience that I'll take to the grave. I know a lot of people who are passionate about the theatre and rave about it in a way that I love, but can't quite understand. I'm not dissing those who do have more powerful responses to shows, but for myself it's frequently a struggle not to begin veering off the highway towards the sleepy hamlet of slumberton.
I could just be jokey and write that I like the theatre because it gives me the rare chance for a good bit of shut-eye, but it's true. The theatre I most enjoy (and even moreso contemporary dance) gives me a bit of space to think about other stuff, and hopefully sets up just the right kind of atmosphere to short-circuit the rational, language-oriented part of the brain that runs the shop for most of the time, allowing the other parts to come out and play. That's why I say that really good dance can be so good, because while a part of you checks out what's actually happening in front of your eyes, another part is comparing your own experience of movement and your body, another part is mentally kicking back to the music, and yet another part is wondering whether cats could jump on a trampoline. All of this is trivial and doesn't say much about the situation in Rwanda or how to kick it to our government or anything, but it's why I like it. Spaces in which to think unmotivated and disinterested thoughts without feeling like you're wasting your time are fewer and fewer. This is also why the art/entertainment divide is largely irrelevant to me.
I don't enjoy watching Shakespeare performed. I don't mind reading him. But I could never see another of his plays performed and I wouldn't feel like I'd missed anything. Again, no slight intended to those who find grand and timeless themes played out in his words.
I don't want to see a David Williamson play. Maybe in thirty years I will, if I'm living a comfortable existence with a good income and kids I feel I should be concerned about.
Also, I'd be happy if I never see another show set in a 'nowhere land' featuring nameless characters or everyman/woman and an empty stage and a soundtrack of wind. Desolate landscapes and disconnected, alienated individuals might have spoken to me if I was, you know, living fifty years ago in the ravages of a postwar world without certainty or belief, but if that stuff spoke to me deeply in middle-class Melbourne I'd be fooling myself or, worse, patronising/romanticising those for whom that stuff did mean something.
I don't mind shows which at first glance don't seem to be trivial or unimportant, but I think that the very structure and history of the theatre can render important issues trivial. It's a history of exclusion and there's no better way of proving it than having you look at the audience, and how the history of the audience has been one of increasing discipline and restriction. It doesn't help to open up the theatre to those traditionally denied a spot in the pews; we just need to realise that the particular mode of viewing demanded by most theatrical institutions isn't compatible with the aims of some theatremakers who want to rattle cages/rage against the machine/etc.
So I'm a theatre critic, sure, but only barely. I don't want to put the 'crit' into mediocrity, dig? I don't like it when a critic spends most of a review summarising the plot (not looking at anyone) because plots are for cemeteries. And I don't want to convince people that they should go to the theatre if they already hate it, since (if it's not obvious yet) I don't think that the theatre, in its current form, is a necessary thing.
The reason I enjoyed Bloody Mess so much is that it seemed totally aware of all of this: it knew that it was a theatre show, and revelled in it, and made fun of the egos and seriousness of the performers, and the idea that we can 'have our souls touched' by a performance (while maintaining total respect for the desire for said touching). It was gloriously, knowingly bad and all the better for it. It was disposable, which made it Very Important Indeed.