Friday, January 30, 2009

Pure Theatre

Dr. Schaper tells us Virginia Woolf imposed certain writing exercises on herself as a young girl to develop her style, one of which was to write without adjectives. It sounds like a sound idea, as such words are quickly beginning to fail me in describing London. I can only use 'fabulous,' 'magnificent,' wonderful,' 'amazing,' and 'spectacular' so many times before they cease to lose all meaning. I would like to invoke them, however, in describing my third consecutive night of London theatre, being the National Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.

The show itself is about as close to flawless as one could hope for: the acting is great across the board, the lighting is some of the best I have ever seen, and the staging is extraordinary; on several occasions the entire stage--with an entire orchestra on it, mind you--revolves. Stoppard's writing is of course astonishingly witty and astute. Exchanges like:

"The doctor has a rehearsal."
"The doctor has a practice."
"He has a rehearsal!"

are more than just clever, they're also key to the characters and the play itself.

The play's the thing. What makes this production one of the best I have ever experienced is its uniqueness. EGBDF has a very, very short production history, essentially having debuted in 1977 and then, aside from a few big-name productions, languished in obscurity until this revival. This has to do with its particulars: the play, concerning a Soviet dissident imprisoned in a mental institution for his political beliefs, with a cellmate who believes he is conducting an orchestra, is a one-act (often ignored by big theatres) that requires an orchestra that interacts with the actors without the play really being a musical, and takes a fierce anti-communist/anti-Soviet stance. The number of groups who can handle the technical demands is quite limited, which is a shame because it is such a ridiculously great play.

Live drama at its best gives us experiences that cannot be replicated; that's the edge it has over film. That everyone involved in this production is firing on all cylinders, for such a play that's almost too weird to exist, elevates it into a sort of pure theatre, that rarely has a chance to even vary by performance, because they are so scarce. I would recommend you all to see it, except the chances are you will never get the chance to.

I'm going to sing its praises to the roof to everyone in my London group, though.

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