Monday, 23 November 2015

Mad Cyril Tells It like He Sees It (Diderot and the Lap-dancer, interlude 3)

I have a bit of bother with this whole ‘suspension of disbelief’ malarkey.  I know Coleridge came up with it, and he wasn’t adverse to a bit of puff. Suggests his relationship to reality was probably tangential. But I’ve seen a few plays, like that Forced Entertainment one when I was right off my chump, and I didn’t feel the need to scream that there was a real gorilla on the stage. It was that sexy bird in a monkey suit. I knew that.

Mind you, I still reckon that Bloody Mess was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling the dramatic illusion old Diderot bangs on about. The way that they had these characters
doing their own thing, ignoring each other pretty much, just trying to tell their own story – and the way that this overlapped so that each personal story reflected on the others – this series of unconnected episodes that somehow connected to each other. 

Yeah, that’s the closest I’ve seen to real life on stage. Plus no-one knew whether they were a tragedy or a comedy: couple of clowns trying to split up, only they couldn’t; a sexy lady talking dirty in that gorilla clobber; two dirty long-hairs pretending they were romantic heroes.

That time Forced Entertainment was good – unlike their follow-up, which tried the same trick only explaining history and failed – that was text-book dramatic illusion. See, they kept piling it on, scene after scene. The sort who wanted to pass away, the geezer doing his impersonations of various bombs, the clown trying to tell a story about the universe… the end of the Universe, as it happens, which suggests that they might have had a bit of a destructive theme going on. 

The emotions got higher and higher, until the whole thing was a bloody mess. Just what it says on the tin – and there was no way reason was able to cope with the amount of information they were chucking at the audience. The constant interruptions, the bickering, bloke getting his nads out at one point… it was so much that reason was proper overwhelmed. And so, yeah, I might never have forgotten that it was a play – they were quick to chat straight at the audience – but I was right in and about it.

Diderot was never much cop at fiction: his novel gets distracted by big ideas and
wanders off to explore them. One thing, which Lessing sampled in his Hamburger Cook-Book, was this thing, where a bloke is told about this intrigue – which is really a play – then gets taken to the theatre to see it. The punch-line is, even though the bloke’s been told the intrigue is all real, as soon as he sees the play, in a theatre (natch), he’s like: oh right, it’s a play.

Now I mention this because Diderot is explaining why plays can never have suspension of disbelief. In his time, they had the knobs sitting on the stage and all, so you got these gawkers right up in the action. Diderot did mention that he wanted the impediments to realism out of the way, but this problem – of explaining the dramatic illusion through reason (it’s supposed to be a thing of emotional overload, so quite why he thinks he’ll manage that is another point) – is made a lot more difficult when the play as a play is being made clear by all the stage business and the way that the actors speak their words.

Suspension of disbelief? Skin us up another one, Coleridge, eh?

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