On Variety

Of all the theatrical shows I saw over this Christmas period (People, The Magistrate, Kiss Me Kate), the only one to have any real impact on me was Lucy Prebble’s The Effect; its intricate, moving love story coupled with a complex discussion about the ethics of drugs companies has stayed with me for the last few weeks and doesn’t look like it’ll go away soon. But though there was only one out-and-out ‘theatre’ piece which moved me, I also saw two other things which had their own particular resonance, bringing  to the forefront of my mind thoughts about variety and its potential use as a theatrical form.

The first of these was Frisky and Mannish’s Christmas show at Koko’s. The pair sung their way through their take on popular Christmas songs, introducing a host of cabaret acts in between their numbers (The Boy With Tape on His Face, Piff the Magic Dragon, Bruce Airhead). It was hardly a very cerebrally challenging evening, and didn’t say anything about the world as such (it wasn’t trying to) but that’s not to say it wasn’t gloriously enjoyable (helped by the fact it was almost Christmas and it was my birthday the next day). Either way, the overall feeling was one of celebration, and if there was any overriding worldview which was purveyed it was that nothing is sacred (not even our favourite Christmas songs) and we can subvert anything in the name of comedy and new understandings.

The second show, entitled “The End of the World Show”, was presented by Robin Ince and Brian Cox and was “a summary of all human achievement” and an unashamed “celebration of rationality”. With guests including Ben Goldacre, Adam Rutherford, Scroobius Pip, Kate Tempest, Ben Miller, Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant and Dara O’Briain discussing evolution, space travel, astronomy, chemistry, homeopathy, drugs companies and quantum physics, the overall feeling of this four-and-a-half hour show was of optimism and wonder, encouraging us to think for ourselves and consider the beauty of the world (and universe) around us.

But why am I talking about these productions on a theatre blog? Well, it seems to me that theatre would do well to take a few ideas from the world of variety and cabaret. The idea of a multi-voiced, multi-media production has started to take hold more in recent years with Decade and Greenland leading the way. More recently, authors working alone have begun to incorporate tones of variety into their shows, with Martin Crimp writing in different styles and incorporating music so that we get a wider understanding of the topics of discussion in In The Republic of Happiness.

I know I say it a lot, but in a century in which it has become simple to find out opposing views on something just by Googling and where we are bombarded consistently by opinions on social networks and news sites, the response of a wide range of writers and artists may be a better way of considering the subject matter whether that be a theme, an idea or even a story; plurality must be embraced.

True, different characters can embody different ideas in more straightforward plays, and sometimes the complexity of a well-written script makes us challenge our own opinions so that we can view ideas afresh. But is this really a reflection of our postmodern condition? Is this really sufficient as we move into ever-more complex, confused conditions? How else can we explore these fascinating, necessary and eternal debates?

These are the thoughts swimming around my mind as I begin to edit the texts which have been written for my production of Fascism Anyone?, in which we’re hoping to interrogate the way we understand fascism in 2013. We already have a variety of responses, including black comedies, Beckettian shorts, monologues and raps, and we’ll be including music and movement, but does this count as variety? And if not, can (or should) we be doing more to incorporate a wider variety of artforms?

I’m fully aware that Frisky, Mannish, Brian and Robin weren’t necessarily trying to put across the kind of one-theme response I’ve been considering, but the choice of response tells us a lot, as they understand that looking at particular ideas in different ways can be more engaging, complex and, in a way, democratic. Which seems like the ideal way to combat fascism theatrically.


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