Monday, April 11, 2011


The local theatre group, Sorell On Stage put on a production of the
play 'Beyond a Joke' at the local memorial hall. So we packed up the
children and headed out to see the piece. This is as much me having
a conversation with myself, and trying to solidify some thoughts, as
it is a review. Either way it was a good opportunity for me to get
upon my hobby horse and ride the queen's highway.

What is Art?

Many people, mostly smarter than myself, have wrestled with this
question for a long time. My own fragment of a contribution sees art
as being primarily a social activity. Colour, Line, Melody, Speech how
ever one describes art, however one looks at art, it all comes down to
our species being, our socialness - zoot politikon as the philosopher
would say. Even the archetypal Proustian character, after sleeping
through the day and sitting alone at night in his sound proofed room,
typing his life into art, is working in a social context. Indeed this
tension between the individual and social drives much of what we
call culture.

Why Social?

Going back to the very misty olden times plays were performed in the
open air, in public places, and the clans and tribes would
gather. Music, dance, painting, and poetry. All this and more come
together to create theatre. Even a modest production requires many
hands and many heads. As the German playwright Bertolt Brecht once
famously asked, 'Who built the seven towers of Thebes?'

Why Theatre?

More than other art forms theatre shows us clearly the social nature
of art. In the charming agricultural proscenium auditorium memorial
hall of Sorell the local theatre group performed Derek Benfield's 1979
play 'Beyond A Joke.' A Sweeney Todd blood fest of modern life. A
quiet couple, in a quiet house surrounded by many blossomed trestles,
in a quiet village. Tradesmen enter, but do not leave. The son in law
over hears a conversation between the husband and wife and assumes the
worst. Was it only a series of unfortunate accidents, or was there
murder at the heart of this cosy family? In the best traditions this
question is never resolved, allowing my wife and I to have an
illuminating conversation with our children concerning unresolved

Why Local Theatre?

Art is more than smooth lines, more than cut and dry grammar, more
than tightly controlled hexamatres, more than even what the creator
knows. If Stern was correct in his opinion that writing, properly
managed should be but a different name for conversation; then small,
local, intimate theatre can be seen as the acme of art. When we
consider the affection masters of conversation such as Dickens and
Joyce had for amateur theatre, we can gain a greater respect for what
is being done by these small regional groups. With thin budgets the
play becomes the thing and audience is happy to be swept away in
clouds of suspended disbelief. Functional lighting and simple set
designs allow the conversation to sparkle and minor mishaps and slips
of the tongue and miscues are overlooked in the same way that a chat
over the water cooler is filled with wicked grammar and slang
shorthand where information is readily passed from one to the
other. Understanding that the city is the place to be, we must also
admit that big budget block busting productions give the appearance of
extravagant baroque art, but are all too often no more than thin and
insipid conversations full of sound and fury.

What of Errors?

Portals of discovery, slips into new realms, a brief glance of the
future, at what could be. Nothing to be feared. Feared only if a
smooth lamination is your only goal. Honest roughness beats a basket
of contrived sleekness any day.

In short not the play I would have produced, but I am sure my choice
of titles would only lead to empty seats and even more empty
wallets. I confess to an enjoyable afternoon where even more than a
play we got to see a community come together. Parental joy (again a
social activity) when the children laughed and listened intently and
broke their necks for a clearer view. An afternoon of light hearted
murder comedy of errors. That then I scorn to change my place with

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