Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A rival to plays proper

Okay then here it is:
On this week in the Belltable, were two plays* together and I
didn't see either of them.

I'm not all that sure of my reasons for this, one of the reasons could be that the last thing I saw there was a 'film' that I wasn't overly gone on, or perhaps the reason could be that the theatre group hosting the plays had a mini-manifesto of sorts in the Belltable programme, declaring their allegiance to new (hooray) women's (hey, wait a minute) writing, and professing a desire to stage plays in the Irish language(¿que?). Maybe it was that reading the manifesto I became conscious of having one penis and about two words of Irish and this was the reason I felt that perhaps, theirs was not the production for me.

My loss apparently, for The Cheeky Chappie
did attend and told me afterwards that I'd missed two
cracking monologues.
As I said, my loss and that's what I get for being so easily turned-off by any incitement to sexual tribalism.

What I did see, this weekend was R.B.Sheridan's
'The Rivals'
in the Loft Venue. It wasn't a play,
it was a reading, and you could pay-what-you-liked.
It started at eight and I was very lucky to get a seat,
for it was a full house and a full stage. The balmy evening
and the sheer amount of bodies in the room made for a close
atmosphere and the play's length didn't help ( you got your
money's worth in them days: 75 minutes before an interval!).
Happily, the availability of a half-time beverage, the quality
of acting, the genius of the language and well staged
set-pieces kept us all awake and entertained. As Darwin
pointed out: "It was a bit like watching 'Black-adder'"
-which it was, only ten-times cleverer and not as well rehearsed.

It left me wanting more, which you may think is unlikely reaction
to a three-hour marathon of watching people read out loud,
but it did. It wasn't that I wished to see the four hour
version. I just couldn't help sighing to myself that I couldn't
go and see the play. The proper play. All learnt off and everything.
Which is always the way I feel about readings.

Unfortunately we seem to live in a world where a play
with 15 odd actors can only be performed by musical
societies, youth theatres and transition year students.
There just aint enough bums on them there seats to off-set
the cost.
I suppose I have no right to bemoan this state of
affairs when my own arse was absent from the Belltable all
week (but in fairness they did put me off with their blatantly
sexist manifesto). The truly tragic thing though, is that the
notion of what a play is seems to be becoming eroded

and this shall be today's topic.

A true monologue, be it vaginal or otherwise, is no easy feat
to carry off. A single actor, with a rubbery face, might be
able to 'steal the show' in an ensemble piece like 'The Rivals',
but leave the same actor standing up there on their own for the
best part of an hour and just see where their gurning gets them.

No, monologues aint for the faint-hearted. The situation above,
of the poor out-of-their-league 'funnyface' illustrates something
we all already know and that is that it is one thing
to draw attention, and quite another to hold it.

The actor who performs a monologue and performs it well receives
admiration, as they should. It takes hell of a lot of hard work
and it's a cold and lonely place up there. But my problem with
monologues is that while they are impressive theatrical feats,
they are not plays. They do not contain dialogue,
there are no comings and goings and the scenes are all the
same basic template: a single character narrates a story
without interruption. At the end of the story we are in no
doubt as to the actors range and abilities on a solo flight
but it's just not the same craic as seeing different heads
coming and going and coping with each other; also, we don't
get to see if our actor has the ability to listen and adapt
in real-time to their fellow performers, or find out if they
always deliver the same piece the same way, like a human

The monologue seems to be a convention that has
developed in the past forty years almost to the level of
an art-form in its' own right, and I include in this art
form, tag-team monologues like 'Howie the Rookie'
'The Galway Girl' 'Eden'
and 'The Pride
of Parnell Street'
each of them magnificent in
their own way but they're not plays. Or rather, they're
a very different experience from the 'several people coming,
going and talking to each other' plays that form the bulk of
the history of drama.
Simply because they are more difficult for the individual actors
doesn't make them better for the audience. Simply because they
have so little interaction and require reduced personnel doesn't
make them worse.
I just believe that they should be categorised differently
because they are different.
Quite basically if we think about things from the point of view
of staging a monologue, or even a tag-team monologue, the extra
demands on a single actor are greatly off-set by the simplified
logistics: a reduced need for simultaneous rehearsal time, a reduced
need for blocking and movement, and a reduced need for payment of
personnel, lighting e.t.c. The traditional play cannot compete in
terms of risk/profit and so we see less of it and it's not fair.
Until we have a rule about this, such as a stipulation that the
word monologue, or tag-team monologue must be included in all
advertising and promotional literature in capital letters, people
are going to get to advertise their two-hander monologues as
plays as if both types of performance
take an identical amount of trouble, money and effort to produce,
and are an identical experience for the audience.
That's not quite right is it?

The 'thing-like-as-what-I-wrote' is a monologue, and I don't
have the words ++MONOLOGUE ONLY ++NOT 'REAL' PLAY++
on the poster (for obvious reasons). But I just wonder if I had to,
if everybody had to, would it do anything to halt the demise of the
'in-and-out' /'to-ing and fro-ing' play?

Probably not.

Anyway, it's not a monologue, it's a 'stand-up tragedy'.


  1. I reckon we should remind people that there are three more funny plays coming to The Loft soon (

    And I was reading up a bit more on The Rivals the other day when I learned that not only was RBS a mere 23 when he wrote it, but he was recently married and quite impecunious so...

    "Finally, in need of funds, Richard turned to the only craft that could gain him the remuneration he desired in a short time: he began writing a play."

    I wonder, has that been your experience too?


  2. Ye. That's how come I'm so rich now.