Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Friday, 19 August 2011

Notebook: Dreamin' in the Rain

The triumph of  a garden play over the elements highlighted one of the great truths about theatre

Backstage just before a play begins would seem curious to the uninitiated. Strangely dressed and made-up people wander about muttering to themselves, putting forth only half of an out of context conversation.

For those of us in the OUDS/Thelma Holt production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, such things are just part of day-to-day life. Last night, however, was different.

The day had not been good. A most autumnal and persistent rain had swept the country, and, as we are currently performing outdoors at Balliol College, this presented many problems. As the rain had tumbled and tumbled, our individual spirits had got lower and lower as our hopes of the deluge easing off decreased proportionally.

Such things are but shadows, however, and soon our company was all there, ready to embark on the night’s toughened task. Nerves are another part of life before a performance, but even the most nervous person knows in their heart of hearts roughly how the evening will go; but when your stage is sodden and so much of your production depends on the quality of the weather, the cast and crew entire must reappraise their expectations.

We all knew we faced a challenge, but none knew what exact form this challenge would take. As it turned out, we faced electrical failures, severe cold and, quite aside from the issues we had with the conditions, an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction (or a fortunate one, depending on your point of view).

A reader of this may think that it was a disaster and that all was lost. By all rights, last night should have been an honourable catastrophe. But strange things happen in such moments.

The cast and the audience form an unspoken pact in these times of adversity. The audience have turned out and the cast are persevering, and both agree to make the absolute most of it. The cast relax into the challenge and push themselves in a way they would not otherwise do, and the audience seem to revel in the effort, appreciating every bodily contortion, every line of verse and every glance from character to character.

A strange magic actually happened last night. When the lights failed, it didn’t matter. We continued and the audience seemed to barely notice. When the rain returned to something like full strength, the resolve of all sides was merely strengthened. When the play was over (thankfully, in the glow of electric lights), we ran away from warm applause and agreed that something special had taken place, every person knowing that it was a night they would never forget. Our best performance it may not have been. Our most special it may well prove to be.

Hugh Laurie said that he didn’t much care for theatre acting. Why would you want to do the same thing night after night? Similarly, critics often treat plays as being stagnant entities, replayed endlessly until no-one comes anymore. Such thoughts ignore how organic a play is, and it is no more organic than when exposed to the elements. Drama, however, does not need such exposure to be alive and exciting. Such events merely highlight how special every different performance is.
And that feeling of transient and different specialness for each performance, night after night, goes for those performing as much as it does for those watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment