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Opinion: Why Theatre Is Important

theatre is important The stage at Shakespeare's Globe. Photograph: Courtesy of Tomha.
theatre is important

The stage at Shakespeare’s Globe. Photograph: Courtesy of Tomha.

23 April marks International Shakespeare Day and My Voucher Code’s National Go To A Play Day. Therefore, I’ve been thinking about why theatre is important.

Better the Devil You Know

Explaining why I think theatre is important is always going to boil down to something very personal. No matter how much I try to think about theatre on a meta scale, it’s always been about how I’ve responded and what I’ve learned from it. To me, why I think theatre is important is because I strongly believe I’m a better person for having seen so much. I’ve tried and tried to phrase that in a way that doesn’t sound arrogant and snobby (although, I am a critic after all), and though I’ve not been able to do so, the truth still remains the same. Theatre is important because it makes us better people.

That’s not to say that TV, film, and even video games are incapable of creating provocative and challenging narratives: they absolutely can and do. But the way theatre does this is thrilling and powerful. There’s a unique and intoxicating immediacy and intimacy in seeing a play that you don’t get from a television, cinema, or computer screen. You’re there and the action is going on in front of you: not pre-recorded, never the same from the night before, and always tempering itself to you and everyone else in the performance space. Even in the most passive of shows, the audience can still feed into what’s being played out on stage, and conversely, everything that happens on stage feeds back to you. It’s the most dynamic and interactive narrative medium there is. When you put this in the context of tackling challenging political points of view or presenting deep examination of the human condition, theatre becomes explosive, life-affirming, and sometimes, even life-changing. The issues that shows cover suddenly become alive and incredibly relevant, touching you in ways you wouldn’t expect.

In the past month, I’ve had my opinion on the “war on terror” torn to pieces with Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre , been heartbroken in deep space with Stasis, and troubled and tickled pink in equal measures by Grecian baby-eating extravaganza Blush of Dogs. Each time I witness a brilliant piece of theatre, it leaves an unshakeable mark on my personality. Theatre is important because it has challenged me, changed me, and bettered me. It’s opened my horizons, desecrated my ill-opinions, and always found surprises where I’ve least expected them in impactful ways that other mediums can’t quite replicate.

That is why I love theatre so much, and that’s why I think theatre is important. But that’s not to say that theatre more geared towards pure entertainment is lesser or bad; I enjoy a good cathartic romp as much as the next person. But theatre really is at its best when it asks difficult questions.

shrapnel

Damning, devastating, and important. Tuncay Akpina in ‘Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre. Photograph: Courtesy of Nick Rutter.

Crisis? What Crisis?!

Alas, with the current government’s austerity measures, funding for the arts has taken a significant hit. What this has meant is that visions of great theatre may be lost forever as companies and artists simply can’t make them real without this. But why does this matter?

With each generation comes a new angle on old shows, or great new ideas that astound. I’ve seen versions of the same Shakespeare plays that are wildly different from the last, and even teasing out something completely un-thought of from the text, such as the dark sexual violence inherent in Measure for Measure. Then there’s amazing and demanding pieces of new writing such as Skin Like Butter exploring asylum and detention centres in the UK.

There is so much theatre out there that tackles such a wide variety of topics. Particularly, in times of political and economic turmoil theatre can really find its voice. Indeed, Timerblake Wertenbaker found their fame as a response to the Thatcherite cuts to the arts in 1980s, writing plays that made British audiences uncomfortably scrutinise their identity, history, and establishment with plays like The Grace of Mary Traverse and Our Country’s Good, which still challenge audiences 30+ years on. As well as there is so much good stuff on telly, in multiplexes, or even on your console, there is even more theatre that really demands an audience and commands your intelligence. Why theatre is important is because some of these ideas are so revolutionary and sometimes damning. To think that such extraordinary ideas are lost because there aren’t enough resources out there to make them happen is not just a loss not just for theatre, but for society.

But this economic turbulence and its effects certainly doesn’t mean the death of good theatre. More and more shows are finding life through crowd-funding as a response to the lack of money, meaning the show certainly still goes on; purely because many, like myself, think that theatre is important. Because of this, it makes it’s crucial that audiences get out there and see these shows to ensure they actually get the support they need to thrive and enable good theatre to change and improve as many as possible. In short, we have to be relied on to ensure the future of theatre more than ever before. In these times where we’re at yet another political and economic precipice, theatre is important more now than it’s ever been.

Blush of Dogs

Grecian gravitas. Anna Procter (rear) and Mike Corsale (front) in ‘Blush of Dogs’. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Just See It!

So, I implore you, on behalf of William Shakespeare on the anniversary of his death, and for the future of British theatre, and because theatre is important, on Thursday 23 April go and support a play by buying a ticket and seeing a show. Find out for yourself why theatre is important by keeping alive important theatre. Try and see something which you wouldn’t normally have thought of going to see, or something that is seemingly opposite to your world view. See if it doesn’t challenge, change, or improve you for it, and then try and tell me that theatre isn’t one of the most exhilarating and pressing things Britain should be thankful for. Bill would be proud.

National Go To A Play Day is part of a nationwide campaign led by My Voucher Codes. For more information about My Voucher Codes, visit www.myvouchercodes.co.uk.