The pandemic has been tiring. We’re all tired of masks, tired of Zoom meetings, tired of briefings where nothing really changes. But there’s been a constant light in the darkness, a way to escape. Although in a completely different form for the past year, the theatre is as comforting as ever. I myself have found solace in recorded performances, an echo of times past. A time when you could be sat in a theatre, while your heartbeat synchronises with those around you, regardless of whether you know them or not. Until that time comes back around, I’m able to plug my headphones in and disappear for a while, whether that be into 1700s America in Hamilton, or Northern England in the 1840s in the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre.
Theatre productions have given so many of us respite from the past year. We can immerse ourselves into these worlds, and leave this world of Zoom meetings and masks behind us for a while. However, with the theatre being more widely accessible than ever, should we be using our performances to make current affairs more accessible, rather than creating more ways to escape? Is that the theatre’s primary duty?
It’s important to watch theatre that’s been born of societal issues, and there are so many fantastic political pieces that make you leave the theatre with a new mindset and a new determination in your step. But to watch a performance to escape reality can be just as powerful. The beauty of theatre is the way that we might not even notice when something has made an impression on us. We watch a performance, and then weeks later, there might be a headline that reminds us of it. We remember that character’s face, those gestures, the subtle lighting changes that reflect the tone of the scene. Take something like The Tempest. Although we might watch for romance, or for the poetic language, there are deeper themes within. We are prompted to think of colonialism, the patriarchy, morality, and many more issues that are prevalent today. Although we may not have been watching with politics in mind, it’s made an impression on us. Everyone who has seen that production will have taken something unique away. Some new philosophy, some eye-opening message, or even just a joke they’re going to repeat later on. We’re part of a new community. We shouldn’t erase fantasy and fiction from the stage, as these often best convey one of the most powerful messages of all – that we are not alone.
The headlines can tell us what we should know, but the theatre can give us what we need. Costumes without masks, worlds without Zoom meetings. Stories of hope, of community, of love. The theatre continues to bring us together virtually, and I can’t wait for the day we are brought together in real life – all of our hearts, beating in sync.