Saturday, 18 February 2017

Gonna Just No?

Much to nobody's interest, I've been worrying about what I regard as an infection in much new (theatre) writing. The habit of otherwise enjoyable scripts to shove too many plot points into the narrative - especially towards the end - has undermined their quality and the power of 'the dramatic moment': too many resolutions, and I start to suffer from compassion fatigue. By way of example, Tamasha's Made in India, which achieved its aim of dissecting the matter of surrogacy, had the sudden introduction of a financial subplot (the protagonist bankrolling the action) which didn't go anywhere, a sudden attack of maternal feeling on the part of the surrogate and a political campaign that allowed the issues to go up a notch. 

Call me Aristotelian, but the focus of a single plot lends far more power to the final resolution: even Shakespeare, who loved a subplot, didn't turn every scene into a mini-play with a new problem resolved within minutes. I mean, for all the idiocy of the last scene in The Winter's Tale, it did, at least, refer back to the first act's bleak tragic arc. 

I watched a couple of films - the tedious After Earth, and then World War Z. As drama, they are dreadful, and they have that same infection. So I guess that's where the patient zero for this can be found: action films. 

Or perhaps soap operas? Or comic books? Because the episodic structure isn't so irritating in film - or in a serialised drama. After Earth was terrible because of the mediocre acting, not the hero's journey that provides an excuse for some half-baked meditation on father-son relationships. And World War Z is just... well, it's a mess, isn't it?

The episodic, however, really irritates me on stage. Maybe that's my problem, my taste: a sense that I am being manipulated. Maybe the technique is being used in a clumsy way (and here After Earth has a prime example of this: check out that scene where the boy hero gets rescued off a mutant eagle. The dramatic tension lasts a good thirty seconds, and I have just ruined it, too, by revealing the twist). 

I might go back over my reviews and collate examples of what I'm talking about: I remember that Jumpy at the Lyceum doing it when the teenage protagonist went through potential academic failure, pregnancy, miscarriage, catching her mum pumping her boyfriend in about ten minutes, each drama simply hand-waved by the end of the next scene. Jumpy had plenty of other problems, mind. 

I find it all a bit much, theatrically. Nothing is allowed to settle and become a serious bit of tension. At its worst - I recall Kurst, which interrupted its concentration on a submarine full of dead sailors to throw in a bit about how one of the crew members on the craft listening in had lost a child back at home - it seems to reveal a lack of confidence in the script's story, or tragic potential. 

I almost bet I can find this in a book about 'writing drama' somewhere. And I bet that's why it is proliferating like a meme of a fascist frog.

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