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Monday, 20 October 2008


Audience Protocols
I was taken to see Alan Bennett’s play Enjoy at the Theatre Royal in Brighton. I went along with prejudices as I usually do. I don’t often enjoy straight plays (in the traditional sense), four actors talking and talking and shouting all on the backdrop of a room with one wall cut away. I think the only play that I have thoroughly enjoyed was at the Old Vic a couple of years ago featuring Kevin Spacey (I think it was called A Moon for the Misbegotten or something) and I think that I only enjoyed that because of Spacey, who was encapsulating, I think he put me under a spell, I really could not keep my eyes off of him!

Anyway, the characters were sitting in their front room shouting in their booming voices about being poor and being re-housed. It was supposed to be a depressing drama (as Allan Bennett goes) but I just didn’t get it. The actors were so focussed on saying the words in the script that the feeling was getting lost. There wasn’t enough action, and the audience was sitting silently with these two old people sitting in the same position just talking, I admit I was rather board.

In drastic comparison, I went to see Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death in April this year; it was thrilling and the most interactive. Based on Edgar Allan Poe's story of the same name, the performance is set in a large house and you are free to wonder wherever you please, following whichever scenario you please. At the end everyone is brought to a large hall where the performers bring the show to a finale with aggressive ballroom dancing. The audience are placed in the middle of the action, almost part of it. It was close to immersion.

A lot of the audience had no idea what to do, where to go, one sheepish looking boy was led into a tiny cupboard by a seductive character and the rest of us didn’t know when he was to return. Punchdrunk are known for considering their audience in a particular way and for (forgive for the expression) ‘doing something different’. Why does this have to be different? Mainstream theatre is full to the brim of actors sitting in a room with one wall cut away, facing the audience because they dare not turn their back on us! How rude!

I also know the expression ‘too much of a good thing’, but I do not know if it would apply here and Punchdrunk do have a particular aim. What I am trying to say is that the audience / performance relationship needs to shaken up in theatre. In Shakespeare’s theatre times the audience used to holler and shout at the actors and throw things, I guess one can experience this sort of thing watching pantomime or stand up comedy, but that is a little different. When did audiences become so silent, so scared?

Protocols have been created and followed over years, whether set by the audience or the production. I was listening to Front Row on BBC4 (19.15, 15/10/08 by Mark Lawson feat. David Benedict), and it was said that when watching a performance, an amount of attention is required and when this attention is not repayed then boredom sets in. I think that sums up my thoughts on both of those performances and straight plays. It was also mentioned on this show about the recent deal for readers of the Sun, who went to see Don Giovanni and apparently there were laughs in places where before the audience were silent. This is a step in the right direction I suppose?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you should check out You Me Bum BUm Train, they are amazing and each audience member has a show all to themselves!