Saturday, August 16, 2014

Edinburgh: Where Theatre Comes to Die

Over the next week I will be writing criticism at perhaps the worst possible location for one to write criticism - the Edinburgh Fringe - the home of star ratings and grabby taglines, as well as performing my own theatrical monologue End of Species to be presented together with a nightly forum with climate change scientists at a secret location in Summerhall.

I LOVED IT *****!!!! is all that any artist coming here wants to read. So I fully expect to find nothing here, and no reward for anything that might pass as actual critical writing. Sitting in the courtyard at Summerhall - you can almost explode with the conveyer-belt of flyers, pedalled by desperate artists in cut-throat competition. For what? One may well ask. To tear at the few scraps of what was once theatre? Looking around, you can't help thinking that, if there is a place where theatre comes to begin a longer journey into the public consciousness and eventually into history,  this isn't it. This is a place where theatre comes to die - where it has finally exhausted all that it can give.

There will be nothing here. So why am I here?

Perhaps, as a friend suggested to me today - I am here to be proven wrong. I am certainly ready for that.

Laughing at Critical Thought

The past week I was a participant in the workshop 'Laughing at Ibsen', which was hosted by the Venice Biennale of Architecture (which has a small side program in theatre) and led by Mark Ravenhill. The workshop participants were half Italian, half foreign, and we examined methods of injecting laughter into dramatic situations in which does not obviously belong, in this case, Ibsen's Ghosts.

An interesting thing happened at the end of the four days - I was invited to share reflections. My response was filled with the gusto of one totally swept away by the moment - I babbled insipidly about the Italian comedians in the room, something about how they were gloriously lent to comedy. True - but not useful. So the below is an attempt to reclaim some lost critical territory, as there are important things to be said about laughing today.

Upon re-reading Henri Bergsson's essay On Laughter, what I noticed the most was how it seemed at once relevant and irrelevant. Bergsson's focus is not on the generic 'comedy' but on the human reflex 'laughter', and exactly what that is in a very scientific way. This approach essentialises 'the comic' into its audience response, and in doing so achieves a universality born of neutrality. Examining the impulse - laughter - and not the form of comedy effectively splits the content's meaning and its function. In short, it removes comedy from ideology.