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Left-Handed Politics

(Towards a Science Fiction Theatre)

I am currently reading a book formed of collected pieces of prose and speech by David Hare called 'Writing Left-Handed'. It is so called in reference to his finding prose a 'left-handed' form of communication - his natural or 'right-handed' form is the stage play. I particularly picked up this book because the Chapter 2 (sub) heading caught my eye: On Political Theatre. (p.24)

I am always interested in reading peoples' opinions on the nature of political theatre. However I am never quite satisfied when I read these pieces, they frustrate me. Not out of poor or dull or angry writing, but rather because inherent in politcal theartre is an urge, a desperation, a need to lift up the corners of that rug society likes to sweep the nasty bits under, and hear the voices, an urge which tears apart my heart also.

I have always wanted to write political theatre. The first piece I ever wrote was a 20minute Brechtian examination of the Iraq War (I was a very precocious 17 year old). A question you are often asked in playwriting workshops and by dramaturgs and directors is "what do you really want to say?", "what kind of play do you really want to write?". And I always, always feel in my heart a terrible tension, and I know, I know that I want to write political theatre. I want to write for life, on stages that are bigger than you can see all at one time, I want to write for barricades and riots, for whole 20 year histories and huge and complex, terrible and beautiful stories. This is not a good way to get yourself produced.

Hare, too, talks about writing histories, he talks about presenting "those strange uneasy factors that make a place here and nowhere else" (p.34) on stage, as part of his political theatre for a "generation who are cowed, who seem to have given up on the possibility of change" (p.35). I think at 23, I was the very last of that generation. If you sit in universities seminars now, and watch the pain of the lecturer as they try to extract some kind of discussion from their beleagured students, you realise that this genertaion, the ones who grew up with the internet, the ones with so much information at their fingertips that it just doesn't seem important, have never really known the possiblity of change. Never understood the true meaning of the word.

History is everywhere for this generation. It is potentially at their fingertips, on every 24 hour new channel - but importantly - separate from them - through their mobile phone or their television set or their connection with the internet the wider world is never really a part of their lives. The areoplane hitting the second of the Twin Towers was real the first time you saw it, but after it had been reproduced, the 20th time you had seen it that day, every newspaper cover the next week, after a year when it was dissected by conspiracy theorists, after all the back and forth- it was just another piece of media, like a show that makes you laugh, you download, but then you've seen it a couple of times and it just doesn't get you the way it did. Everything is transmuted. Changed, and if you will allow me to take liberties with the etymology to form a dual meaning for the word, changed as in rendered: Trans- 'beyond' muted- (mutus "silent, dumb,") silence.

And for this generation, drowned in the sound of a thousand cries every day, history is nothing new- there's too much to hear and the distortion is so high that it seems too far away to matter. Everything is all the same thing, it blends together and change is impossible, everything just flows. The cries are beyond silence.

So what does interest this generation? What stories do they buy? I have rarely seen some people so engaged, as when playing Bioshock they inject themselves with a genetic-enhancement and electrocute another few genetically altered and crazed psuedo-zombies that were foolish enough to be wandering through an icy pool. Harry Potter got countless young people reading their first book. The latest cult hit TV series being frantically downloaded through University servers all over the country was Heroes, a far ranging show about ordinary people developing genetic irregularities that enable them to, for example, read minds, regenerate, fly. I believe that in Science Fiction, theatre could find an unfamiliar world that renders familiar things real.

"I write love stories. Most of my plays are that. Over and over again I have written about romanatic love, because it never goes away. And the view of the world it provides, the dislocation it offers, is the most intense experience that many people know on earth.
And I write comedy because ... such ideas as the one I have just uttered make me laugh." (p.35 'Writing Left-Handed')

I think that because Science fiction renders for the audience a vision of the future, it could be key in rejuvanating British Political Theatre. The best piece of political theatre I have recently read is Caryl Churchill's Far Away (2000) it is very short colection of 3 vignettes which slowly slip into fantasy, they begin recognisable, parody everyday styles of speech and discussion, but at the end of each scene the characters are rendered as part of a terrible reality and you see yourself reflected in their eyes.

I believe that we need a way of making people uneasy, a form of expression, a way of telling stories which just doesn't seem to sit right, which niggles at your senses; a left handed politic. I believe in Science Fiction Theatre. I believe that it is not history, but the future that we now need, in order that this new generation might see themselves here, and nowhere else, and crucially, here with the ability to change what might happen. The future is a land often spoken of, more so as global warming takes hold, however it is one of the only places that a news camera cannot go, a place that can be lent the lives of actors, a place that the theatre can show.

I want to write a kind of play that is like David Edgar's Playing With Fire but set 100 years in the future, in the middle of electromagnetic warfare, or the fall of America. I want to issue a new political theatre of such scope that it makes people gasp, cry, and stare wide-eyed at something truly engaging.

I will do this.


morphean ramble said...

I hate to be pernickity... but transmute means to change

mutare meaning 'to change'.


i'll get me coat

IcarusGirl said...

I know it does - I'm not an idiot, I thought it was clear that i used the word for it's lovely double meaning, but I'll make it clearer. I'm really upset you think i'm that stupid tho...

IcarusGirl said...

double meaning as in i used the word transmute instead of change or anything else because of how it sounds meaning as well as is meaning

Lucy Ann Wade said...

I don't think he thought you were stupid, honey, he was just pointing it out because you mentioned "etymology" in your original post. Are you feeling ok?

I think that what you wrote has a lot of good ideas, but I think maybe you are a little too impressionable in what you read!

I (personally) find plays that declare themselves as 'political theatre' to be extremely dull (take a look at the Soho theatre's past productions recently to see what I mean), so if you can find a way to bring politics to the masses without become preachy, then good on you.

Oh, and I found out a place that might give you some money for your living expenses next year, though you probably have applied there already. They do grants for women in PG education. - British Federation of Women Graduates.

IcarusGirl said...

I know that standing from a point a few years after graduating you say that you often think people are just regurgatating their set texts etc but how have I been too influenced? I didn't think I used the work at all except as a jumping off point- I thought it was interesting to see how someone else saw political theatre, and used that as a vehicle to describe where I think it's going. The reading provoked some thoughts in me so I credited it with that.

When I looked back at the piece (I do my blogs in word before pasting them in, I'd not pasted in the end of the paragraph that Alex said I'd mistook a word, so it wasn't obvious at all what I meant- I thought he'd read the full paragraph and still thought I meant it straight- which made me feel like an idiot!

and it matters to me that poeople would think i'd use a word and not know what it means, or mis-use a word etc, because vague cleverness is all I have to recommend me. I hate the idea that someone would think I would make that mistake.

And I can't think of a political play that I've seen or heard that I haven't loved in at least a small way. Plays I consider political theatre anyway- like Far Away, Playing With Fire, Daughters of the Revolution, Romans in Britain, Our Country's Good, etc. I didn't think i liked Brecht until I actually saw a play by him which turned out to be really really engaging... but then I suppose there's the arguement that all theatre is political...

however I think that plays that declare themselves to be any one thing miss the point- politics is inherently connected to lives, to all of life. But I would have to say that I think good political theatre isn't dull, it is only misjudged political theatre that judges and bores.

thanks for the link!

IcarusGirl said...

pls ignore SPAG errors