Monday, 28 May 2012

Presenting a life theatrically

A month ago I went to The Queen of the North at the Bolton Octagon: a play about the life of Pat Phoenix, the actor who played a long running central character in Coronation Street. Although it was done well, I was struck by a difficulty of the theatrical presentation of a life.

There is a natural tendency to present the linear structure of a life in the linear structure of an evening at the theatre: thus heading towards the end of both as the telos and climax of the evening. The result is thus to think of death as somehow what a life is about.

Now I know this might seem quite right to those who read Heidegger when young, but I am not sure it is the right structure for the rest of us.

In the case of The Queen of the North, this was explicitly embraced. There was more than an intimation of where it would end by the constant presence on the stage of the hospital bed (the play having an episodic flashback structure). And in fact the death was a kind of climax as Pat Phoenix had a last minute deathbed wedding. But still it was odd that I left the theatre focused on her death -which comes to us all - rather than her rather more unusual life as a famous TV star.

This worry came back to me seeing the new Crucible production of Pinter's Betrayal. If I had to say I had a favourite play it would be that, though on reflection I am not sure I have ever seen a theatrical production (rather than the stagey film) before. Much of the dialogue is utterly familiar. But its reverse structure addresses the question of how to place emphasis on something other than the end. Odd that the structure remains so disorientating.