Monday, 13 February 2017

Good Nature and Ignoring Audiences

The spectators are partly not connoisseurs, and in part too good natured, and they take the desire to please them for the deed.
Lessing, Hamburg Dramaturgy No.5

While I am reluctant to be as bold as Lessing - who is commenting on the habit of certain actors raising their voice as they exit a scene in order to ensure a round of applause - the good nature of audiences could be a fair reason for the critic to ignore their responses in the assessment of a performance's quality. Having endured a dismal evening at Wonderland - a new musical which takes liberties with Lewis C's fantastical tale of Mad Hatters and tyrannical queens, I pondered how this mismatch of story and song could attract such warm audience approval. In this matter, as in so many, Herr Lessing has anticipated my perplexity.

At one point, Alice (now transformed into a middle-aged divorcee) makes an apparently trenchant speech in which she realises that her ex-husband, previously her authority, is, in fact, a mean-spirited authoritarian. Love is replaced by hate, and this stands for some form of liberation. On cue, the audience interrupted the performance to vigorously approve her new-found independence.

And yet - leaving aside whether hate rather than indifference marks liberation from patriarchal oppression - Alice had not earned her attitude. In the magical world of Wonderland, self-realisation comes from jumping through a magic mirror. A symbol of Kierkegaard's 'leap of faith' perhaps, but an unsatisfying symbol that removes the need for either self-awareness or struggle. This is lazy writing, and the speech's feminism is poorly served by the easy resolution of Alice's long-term repression.

It is a signifier of a trenchant speech, rather than the thing itself. The significance is not within the words but the dramatic pause, the invitation for applause. The audience is invited to participate, to award the play with meaning. 

Perhaps this is the training of television, with its laughter track teaching the viewer how to respond. Rewatching I'm Alan Partridge, the laughter track is briefly replaced after one character's monologue - about shooting up a friend with an attack helicopter - with a ripple of applause. Suitably equipped, the viewer is educated in the shape of 'important moments' without needing the shape to be further refined or contoured. While ignoring audience response is perhaps a step too far, this example suggests a place for suspicion, at the least.

No comments :

Post a Comment