To celebrate World Theatre Day, we asked resident theatre fan and reviewer Matt Buttell to explain exactly what he loves about live theatre.
Oscar Wilde once said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
I couldn’t agree with this statement more. There is something truly visceral about watching a production unfold, live, in front of your eyes as it takes shape and brings you into its narrative. Stories on stage can take many forms – straight plays, farces, ballets, operas, musicals – but all variations of live theatre have one thing in common: they’re a mirror into the soul of the audience watching.
For some shows, such reflections are obvious. Melodramas and powerful, emotional narratives are regularly seen as stories of the human condition, forcing audiences to question their moral standing, their most inner thoughts or even their darkest fears; but even the funniest, frothiest and most irreverent of shows can also demonstrate what it means to be human – and hold you in a single moment that simply celebrates the joy of life.
Theatre can be both of course, just like real life. In fact, the best productions and performances show us both the light and shade of living.
Theatre is also about escapism. Sadly we can’t all burst out into song and dance numbers around the vending machines in the office – but in the theatre you can. Sure, musicals have the wherewithal to do this most easily, but storytelling techniques across the whole spectrum of live theatre – think soliloquies, monologues, dance sequences, breaking the fourth wall – allow stories to be told in the most inventive of ways.
Sometimes this is in the writing of the piece. Classics like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – currently enjoying a five-star revival in the West End – are so sharply crafted that only a fool would try to pick apart their sterling script.
Elsewhere, it can be the direction, the choreography or the performances themselves that make a show come alive – or a combination of all the separate parts.
In stunning new musical An American in Paris, which opened at the Dominion Theatre last week, the dance sequences are so sublime that they tell as much of the story as any of the traditional Gershwin-penned musical numbers.
And at its heart, that’s exactly what the theatre is – storytelling.
When I was younger (and pretended I could act), theatre gave me the chance to be somebody else when I didn’t want to be me. As I’ve grown up (and now exclusively enjoy theatre as an audience member), it provides a safe space for me to learn about who I am, and learn who we all are as human beings.