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Ideas of stage

Talking Theatre: Interviews with Theatre People - Richard Eyre

I thought this was going to be a very dull book at first, with little interest for people outside of the theatre world. However, Peter Brook's fascinating, insight-filled reflections and reminiscences quickly reversed that impression. He has an intriguing idea about 'the richness of English inner life' and how cripplingly embarrassed we are by our emotionality. 'The theatre is the only area where the hidden Englishness can reveal itself respectably' he says. Hiding behind the facades created by the class system, the English are the opposite of the Irish who 'allow their deep natural poetry and imagination to come out all the time'. Thus, Irish writers have dominated the English theatre for three hundred years.

Brook also talks about inclusion in theatre (related to classism) and the need to tackle this locally and event by event, and for the theatre to make amends for its history of exclusion and 'letting people down'. He identifies the essential quality of Shakespeare as his anti-authoritarianism and distrust of all authority figures, which perhaps part-explains the rich radical tradition in English theatre, along with the dominance of Irish writers, essentially post-colonial and chafing at the language imposed on them, as Fiona Shaw eloquently points out in another interview.

This set the tone for a wonderful read. Most of the interviews are very good, and a few of them are dazzling, for example with Steven Berkoff and Willem Dafoe. Peter Hall is also fascinating, pointing out that in two or three hundred years Shakespeare will be unreadable and will need to be translated. He also quips that 'the theatre is always dying', hinting at the cycles of renewal and reinvigoration. He identifies Joan Littlewood, who directed Shelagh Delaney's groundbreaking little play 'A Taste of Honey', as truly revolutionary, and I was fascinated to read accounts of her methods and personality through the eyes of designer John Bury and actor Victor Spinetti.

Impressively, Eyre has managed to fashion this varied set of interviews into a story arc, taking the reader on a journey from the 'golden age' of actors like Olivier and the founding of the National Theatre and the RSC to the avant garde, interactive, de/reconstructed theatre of today , with frequent comfortable detours to the USA. Shakespeare, Brecht and Beckett cast their huge shadows across the book, yielding endless discussion and contrasting opinions. Each page presented a fresh testimony of the power and infinite potential of theatre. I defy anyone who reads not to feel inspired to go out and see more plays.

My favourite interview of all is with American playwright Tony Kushner, sections of which I am compelled to transcribe, possibly onto my bedroom walls. Here's a sample

Well, The Lion King is a right-wing fantasy about social domination and the supremacy of men everywhere. It’s a completely beautifully packaged, neo-con parable for neo-con times and neo-con audiences and their creepy little children. The ideology Brecht says is there: the absence of an ideology is an ideology. It’s just a conservative ideology and everything that you see has it.