Theatre is the oldest and perhaps most important of art forms. It is the cultural crystallisation of the most basic and fundamental of human activities: from the moment we gain control of our minds as children, we play and dramatise with each other. All that the theatre really is the development of this incredibly necessary and primal urge into a cultural reality: thus we are drawn to the theatre’s curtain, to watch people pretend to be people they are not upon a stage that is not really what it says it is.
Bizarre, yes, but all too important in engaging the creative aspects of the audiences mind, a trait that has been disregarded by the advent of technology that creates any set imaginable: from castles to futuristic landscapes, the cinema has erected all of the audiences fantasies outside of the privacy of their own minds. This is where the medium differs so importantly: in theatre, as in reading, the audience become a creative participant in the drama as much as the actors are: if you do not choose to make the effort to believe, you will not be watching a play as such, but merely sitting in a dark room watching grown-ups play at make-believe.
This is why plays continue to be such an important artistic force in our culture: people yearn for the exhilaration that comes from the live act, the rush of excitement that only theatre can bring. CGI and 3-D cinema may develop to levels approaching almost alternative reality itself, but it will not compete with the creative effort required for, and the childlike urges satisfied by, the singular experience that a really damn good play can bring.
Another compelling feature which plays and the theatre hold is their social aspect: they are literature come alive into a living and breathing reality, experienced as they are in the company of many other participants. Plays hold all the charm of a good book (or the script itself, even) but have the added benefit of being enjoyed in the presence of other people. The enjoyment of literature is necessarily a lonely and singular pursuit, and the joy of a play in part comes from this twist on it’s own genre. The communal event which includes a heightened comic effect, as well as the dissolution of yourself into the play, can be very powerful indeed. Theatre thus straddles the personal and the social: it is an intense effort of creative power that can only be managed with an inner concentration, but at the same time it is a powerful catalyst for social interaction and a space where people come to meet, talk and a be with each other.
It is not only social in it’s reception, but the very creation and performance of a play takes a mammoth effort from a large team of people who must all have various skills to perform their differing tasks. This is another aspect of plays that make them so beguiling: they take so much effort to create their illusion, utilising as they do so many different types of human skill. From technical knowledge to musical aptitude, from literary proficiency to convincing acting skills, a play requires every facet of civilisation to pull itself off.
Theatre literally means the seeing place, taken from the greek word theatron. It was the Greeks who gave the primitive ideas of playing and enactment the form that we know today, theorising and formalising the base element into a true art form. It is through the theatrical experimentations of such giants as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes that theatre was shaped into the position it enjoys to day, with all it’s possibilities and endless potential. These classic pieces are still as enjoyable and relevant today as when they were first composed, and be they comedy or tragedy, will have you rolling in the aisles or stricken dumb with grief. If you get a chance why not check out Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Elektra, Aristophanes’ The Frogs, or Euripides’ The Bacchae and Medea.
These rules and styles laid down were only the starting point. The next obvious point of reference would be the classical age of English theatre, where the work of such geniuses as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe would go to change the world of the stage forever. The former in particular is well known the world over as the most gifted and formidable writer which history has ever seen. With his deft word-play, seemingly limitless imagination and endless playfulness with language, along with the huge host of unforgettable characters which populate his work, Shakespeare has captured the heart of anyone who has seen or read his plays. He went on to influence pretty much the entirety of literature and theatre that followed him, as well as being very accessible, funny and human. If you get the chance you should certainly try and catch one of his fantastic pieces of theatre, such as The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar or Hamlet. The plays of Christopher Marlowe are also often in high demand, such as The Jew of Malta and Doctor Faustus.
Since then theatre has come into its own, having had such a wonderful gauntlet laid down for it by this past greatness. In the likes of Brecht and Becket we find such wonderful theatrical experiments as the former’s Mother Courage and the latter’s Waiting For Godot. In Oscar Wilde we are given a full-on barrage of wit and word play, all driven by wonderfully observed characters in Wilde’s characteristic way: be sure to check out An Ideal Husband or The Importance of Being Earnest if you get the chance. Others such as Arthur Miller eschewed such glistening wit for an realism that hurts, working the sad story of twentieth century America into the microcosm of daily life, with such excellent plays as All My Sons and Death of a Salesman.
Boxoffice.co.uk has a huge selection of tickets to plays and the theatre, so whatever part of it’s history interests you, you are sure to be able to find tickets to see your beloved theatre in real life.