Life is moving

In the Moscow Art Theatre, in Tel Aviv in the Habimah, productions have been kept going for forty years or more: I have seen a faithful revival of Vakhtangov’s twenties’ staging of Princess Turandot; I have seen Stranislavsky’s own work, perfectly preserved: but none of these had more than antiquarian interest, none had the vitality of new invention.  At Stratford where we worry that we don’t play our repertoire long enough to milk its full box office value, we now discss this quite empirically: about five years, we agree, is the most a particular staging can live.  It is not only the hair-styles, costumes and make-up that look dated.  All the different elements of staging – the shorthands of behaviour that stand for certain emotions; gestures, gesticulations and tones of voice – are all fluctuating on an invisible stock exchange all the time.  Life is moving, influences are playing on actor and audience, and other plays, other arts, the cinema, television, current events, join in the constant rewriting of history and the amending of the daily truth.  In fashion houses someone will thump a table and say “boots are definitely in”: this is an existential fact.  A living theatre that thinks it can stand aloof from anything so trivial as fashion will wilt.  In the theatre, every form once born is mortal; every form must be reconceived, and its new conception will bear the marks of all the influences that surround it.  In this sense, the theatre is relativity.  Yet a great theatre is not a fashion house; perpetual elements do recur and certain fundamental issues underlie all dramatic activity.  The deadly trap is to divide the eternal truths from the superficial variations; this is a subtle form of snobbery and it is fatal.

This made me hmmm as I consider what to think about the exiling of comedy now felt to be unacceptably hurtful.



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