Why do you go to the theatre?

Why do you go to the theatre? What makes you go, keeps you going, or (conversely) makes you stay away?

I’ve been thinking about some possible reasons, contemporary and historical, for theatregoing. There’s seasonal pantomime-going, or the individual who racks up a lifetime’s theatre attendance because they’re the dutiful spouse of a hardened fan. There’s theatre as the venue for a treat, date, or other celebration; as a place to see and be seen; or as an experience akin to sight-seeing or a heritage trip, if you want to sample an indigenous or traditional performance style. There’s escapism. There’s wanting to see a particular actor (star or spear-carrier, never let it be said that I and sundry other schoolgirls did not lose our hearts to Rory Kinnear when he was MERELY CAIUS LUCIUS), director, playwright, or designer (I am not highbrow enough for the last). There are educational reasons, whether it’s school trip or the minor miracle of finding out that someone’s been brave/foolhardy enough to stage the subject of your PhD. There’s your friend’s play, your college play, and the play starring the person you fancy. There’s a play that drags you to the theatre when nothing else has in ages, either because of the themes or the unusual casting choice that puts someone like you on stage, for once. There’s the Travelex offer, the student discount, or the Underground ad that seems like a good idea. There’s the fact that your choice is limited by where you live or what you earn or how you get about. There’s the fact that you love Cats/Hamlet/Harriet Walter/Spamalot/£22 seats at the Hampstead/Jodie because she’s better at the 9 am online rush than you are/weird immersive things in a mask more than is usual or healthy (I am all these people and worse).*

You will have other and better and more thought-provoking reasons. I should like to hear them. Thanks!

*I am much worse at the cinema than I am at the theatre, partly because I am spatially unable to understand chase sequences, and partly because I shouldn’t eat Haribo. That said, the last film I saw was Testament of Youth (plot summary: everyone you love dies horribly, and mud) and I wept noiselessly and violently for a solid two hours. No Haribo. Late on, Vera Brittain is having her long-overdue nervous breakdown back in Somerville (MERTON) and her tute partner says “I’ve brought you some more books to read”. The most Oxonian moment on film. It dehydrated me.

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5 thoughts on “Why do you go to the theatre?

  1. I usually go because I think I’d like to see that particular play (though occasionally it’s because I’m interested in how a particular actor will do a role). Either because I know the play a bit and I’m interested in how they’ll stage it/what choices the director will make, or because I don’t know the play at all and it looks good (I tend to prefer seeing plays to reading them) or the reviews made it sound interesting. I’m not at all interested in anything that claims to be ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reinventing’ anything, and I’m put off by things that look like they’ll be distractingly and obtrusively high-concept (by which I mean where the concept takes over from the ‘plot’ of the play – or whatever that particular play has instead of a plot).

    Why do you think being interested in theatre design is more highbrow than being interested in acting or directorial styles? Is it because the latter are more easily accessible/taught as part of English courses (if it is)/mentioned by reviewers more?

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  2. This is all very interesting, thanks! I think having a sustained interest in and knowledge of theatre design (where you know/can understand what you’re seeing and can talk about it) means learning a particular artistic and architectural vocabulary, attending plays (at least some of the time) which pay serious artistic and financial attention to design (which rules out a lot of marginalised/fringe theatre in small venues that doesn’t have financial scope or space, even if there’s the will and the talent), and having access to information that’s less readily available. From what I can gather, you can find out about actors and directors via interviews/reviews/images online much more easily than you can about design processes/materials etc. Theatre set design also has less overlap with less prestigious art forms (TV design and special effects being so different – one’s more minimal and the other so much more digital) than counterparts in other aspects of theatre – actors do theatre and TV etc. Those are my unformed thoughts. I think there’s more popular and accessible discussion of acting, writing and directing than there is of design, generally. ALSO I am just much less informed on it and have a residual fear of talking about it beyond my enthusiasm for specific sets I’ve seen.

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  3. I’ll go because it’s a play I like — especially now that I live in Ireland again, it’s rare for me to see some good Shakespeare or early modern drama, so I’ll seize the bull by the horns if I can. Same with some other playwrights as well, but some will be performed more than others.

    Related to that, I’ll go because it’s an actor/director/company I like — how are they going to approach it? Or, their approach to the work they do excites me so much so that I’m always excited to see them do whatever they decide to approach next.

    I’ll go because it’s a writer I like — for example, I love Enda Walsh’s work, and when he has a new play premiere in Galway I’ll nab a ticket fast. AND related to that last post as well, he works with practitioners whose work I love to see on the stage (Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi), so that’s another bonus.

    I’ll go because my best friend wants to hang out and has suggested something to go and see (we’re both theatre dorks, but she’s more in tune with new writing than I am).

    I’ll go because of research, or reviewing too.

    I’ll go because a rare chance has been offered to me to see a show I want to see for VERY CHEAP or for NO COST AT ALL. Free/cheap theatre is excellent theatre, or if I’m in London at the right time to see a show for cheap, that’s great too.

    I’ll go because friends are involved in it and I want to support them.

    I’ll go because, sometimes, hype — again, new Enda Walsh in Galway with Cillian Murphy? Or Druid’s marathon theatre shows? Brings on a major case of FOMO. Not always able to suppress that but still.

    [Any of that make sense…?]

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  4. I began life as a professional actor in repertory (before the Thatcher Governments closed them all) and was so distraught to see my career shredded by politicians that I simply could not bring myself to cross a theatre threshold for about 20 years afterwards – thus missing out on quite a lot of stuff. But I WILL go to see stuff that stands out and also to make a night of it with a female friend. We will generally go to London, have lunch or dinner and then go to the show. I’ve seen, over the last few years and in no particular order (well, the order I can remember them in!), quite a lot of stuff – The Audience, with Helen Mirren, Untold Stories, King Charles III (the best thing I’ve seen in years), Eat Pray and Laugh (Barry Humphries) which was rather disappointing since it was rather a depressive piece overall, in my view, Monty Python (Almost) Live – which was again rather disappointing because the O2 Arena is totally unsuited to intimate satire and I will never go to the O2 again – too plastic by far with more than a whiff of Nuremberg, Richard III with Mark Rylance at the Globe – again disappointing since I thought Mr Rylance was playing it for laughs and there was a distinct feeling he was doing an impression of Count Arthur Strong (at the time a radio show), Twelfth Night with Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance – who this time was magnificent as Olivia, The Misanthrope with Kiera knightley and Damian Green which was truly wonderful – a brilliant translation from the original French re-set in Hollywood with the monarch being replaced by a Hollywood star and the Courtiers by the modern hanger’s on of the film world with a magnificent central masque scene in which of course the theme was 18th Century French and so suddenly they were all dressed as if Moliere was in the wings, Hamlet at the RSC in which the ensemble was great but the central character of Hamlet a bit of a disappointment, oh I could go on but in fact I won’t! Why do I go – the language, the spectacle, the jokes, the hyper-reality.

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