Doing battle with daily dragons

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Naked Stage

The Rock Star and I are getting a dose of culture this evening. We try to do this every so often to keep our grey matter from withering due to overexposure to The Simpsons.

We’re heading to the Theatre Royal Haymarket this evening to take in “A Few Good Men.” (Yeah, the one with I want the truth, you can’t handle the truth, you navy boys in your faggoty white uniforms etc.) I am ashamed to admit that I was not aware this piece of work was a play BEFORE it was a film with the plucky, quirky, scary, shorty Tom Cruise and the self-parodying, crabby Jack Nicholson. Nor did I realize until recently that it was written by Aaron Sorkin, whom, being an extreme West Wing fangirl, I worship as a minor writing deity. So, The Rock Star and I splashed out on some pretty good tickets (close enough to see whether or not Rob Lowe has trimmed his nasal hair recently) and will enjoy an evening out.

As a rule, I’m not crazy about West End shows that try to hock a celebrity to get ticket sales. (Having said that, I’ve gone out of my way to get tickets to shows starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave, but therein lies the difference between actors who happen to be celebrities and celebrities who happen to be actors.) I’m of the opinion that celebrity is actually a detriment to the ability to engage with the story. You just keep thinking, “Oh my god, I’m sitting five feet away from that guy from “Heathers” and completely forget what it is they’re doing. But I feel for the modern theatre. It’s harder and harder to compete in an entertainment world that allows the common consumer to have a cinema-quality home system that allows them to immerse themselves in a story without leaving their comfy sofa and the privacy that allows them to indulge in personal movie-watching habits. Let’s face it; you can’t go to the theatre in your underwear wielding a popcorn bowl and a pair of toenail clippers. (Note: This is NOT a movie watching ritual for me. I’m just saying, that’s all.)

As a side-line to the celebrity incursion, I would also like to address random and pointless nakedness. A few years ago, The Rock Star and I went to see “Lenny”, a play written about the life of subversive American comedian, Lenny Bruce. Bruce was played by Eddie Izzard, who did a brilliant job of being himself, but not such a good job of being Bruce. One scene in the play opened with a completely naked sex scene between Izzard and the abhorrent star of the hysterically awful “Showgirls”, Elizabeth Berkley. In the middle of this amorous encounter, Izzard got off of the naked, writhing Berkley and delivered a 10 minute monologue, standing "tackle out". It should come as a surprise to no one that neither I, nor, I imagine, anyone else in the audience, can remember what the monologue was about.

My beef: theatre needs to be above titillation; you shouldn’t be able to turn on Channel 5 at 11pm and have a similar experience. Drama shouldn’t need to whore itself to “Loaded” readers. (I don’t suppose that most of the audience of “The Graduate” crowded into the theatre every night to witness Jerry Hall’s stunning performance, if you catch my drift.) Of COURSE there are going to be some instances where nudity is going to be justified, but if it’s the main draw of a performance then something has gone dreadfully wrong.

The mainstream theatre is in crisis. You can’t turn an utter piece of theatrical tripe into a brilliant masterpiece just by adding that guy who played Ross in “Friends” no matter HOW many years he spent at the Steppenwolf. Famous faces boost ticket sales, but the damaging reviews jade the potential audience still further, strengthening their assumption that an expensive trip to the theatre just isn’t worth the bother if they can watch quality entertainment in their living rooms.

Theatre, at its best is immediate, hard hitting, electric and visceral. Theatre, at its absolute worst, is un-inspiring. Even BAD theatre is thought provoking, (Why was it bad? Was it the script? The acting? What could I have done differently?) but mediocrity is the highest theatrical sin and there seems to be an over-abundance of it. Lots lights and colours, but little to no substance…rather like television. Real inspiration is coming out of the holes in the walls; the ones who advertise with paper fliers on lampposts rather than in 12 foot neon above the theatre door. The theatre made by people who have everything to lose.

That said, I’m hoping for a little inspiration this evening, even from the theatre of Big Money. We shall see.