Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What's Wrong with 'Reality Theatre'

'Reality theatre' is a fad that will fade — probably sooner than later. 
I am talking about plays like Brimful of Asha and Winners and Losers. I am not a theatre critic; so I'm not judging these productions (the first one I have not seen, and the second I saw and quite enjoyed). Here is my definition of reality theatre: theatre that takes place in real time and in which the actors:  a) play themselves, and b) if they do speak -- instead of speaking pre-scripted dialogue -- simply converse.
There are two pretty obvious objections to the notion that reality theatre is a radical new form. And there is one objection that may not have occurred to you.
First: reality theatre is not real. Even if the performers are not 'actors' but 'real people' they nevertheless are performing for us and are fully conscious of that. Just as documentary films are not necessarily truth, reality theatre involves certain choices about what will be presented and what will not. Significantly, reality theatre is not a new form or style; the history of theatre brings us countless examples of efforts to make writing, directing and acting more ‘true to life.’ Reality theatre is simply the latest and trendiest claim to authenticity. Those who promote it are the ‘New Stanislavskis.’
The second obvious objection to reality theatre is that people love stories and are not about to give them up any day soon. Fiction allows us enormous freedom to imagine possibilities for what we can do and who we can be.
Now to the less obvious objection.
The problem with reality theatre is that it tends to towards the contentless. Like abstract art, reality theatre — when for instance, it is about watching people stack boxes — often says nothing, or what it says is inscrutable or vaguely concerns the human condition. Purveyors of reality theatre like to go on about the idea that reality theatre accentuates the essence of theatre; its ‘liveness.’ I would argue that watching an old-fashioned story can be suddenly and stunningly ‘live’ if the content is controversial, offensive, or merely challenging to the average bourgeois consumer. Have you ever sat in a theatre where different members of the audience have violently opposing reactions to the content of a play? Where people laugh at the ‘wrong’ places? Where people walk out, or even speak back to the actors?
It is not plays with made-up plots that lack ‘liveness,’ it is mainstream plotted plays— like those approved for presentation by the Mirvish Real Estate Corporation — that are utterly devoid of it. Even the most experimental recent Broadway hit deemed suitable for the Panasonic Theatre has been judged clear of any discernible offence, or it would not be performed there.
Reality theatre is a lot of fun, and certainly has the potential to be a lot more than merely entertainment. 
But please don’t try and convince me it’s something I haven’t seen before.