What’s the point of plays in the age of digital cinema? According to Sir David Hare (who knows a thing or two about good theatre), theater is uniquely valuable because it demands concentration of its audience. “You’re hijacked for two hours and you’ve got to turn off your cellphone. You’ve got to stop talking to your neighbor and you’ve actually all got to examine something together.”
One cannot possibly overstate how momentous a live performance can be. A powerful play spurs action. It encourages critical thought and discourse. British theater is thriving at the moment and it’s because a generation of keen, talented writers are presenting weighty, contrary ideas about society and politics.
Hare’s latest book, titled The Blue Touch Paper, is a memoir of his early life and career.
Sir David Hare: The reason the theater is uniquely valuable is because you have to concentrate. In other words, you’re hijacked for two hours and you’ve got to turn off your cellphone. You’ve got to stop talking to your neighbor and you’ve actually all got to examine something together. Now some people would be bored and some people will look away while it’s happening and other people will cough; another will head straight for the exit. And some people will not choose to focus. But at a good play, what you get is this extraordinary act of concentration.
I suppose what I’m talking about is scrutiny. In other words, it’s one thing to look at an idea on the page and run it through your brain. But it’s a completely different thing to be in a room where a whole group of people make a moral examination together of actions and words. Now clearly for the next generation after mine who were brought up on television, cinema, video, the moving image, beginning of computers — they weren’t really interested in theater. And in England, at least, it’s not a very distinguished bunch of playwrights that follow mine. However, the young, who are now bored stiff with computers, bored stiff with film, bored stiff with television. They actually have taken up theater again. And what we have is a brilliant crop of young writers, a lot of them female, working in Britain. And the theater is being regenerated by the young. And particularly at a time when public discourse, in Britain at least, is so impoverished. And so one-track, you know. We, now, for anyone to descend from orthodoxy about neoliberal economics. That the only way of the world advancing is apparently through deregulated markets, cheap labor, you know. If you say anything else, if you start talking about workers’ rights, you’re now treated like a lunatic in Britain. They want to put you in a white coat and take you away. And so the theater’s the place where people can look at ideas again.
There’s a very beautiful saying of Raymond Williams, who was my old tutor. And Raymond Williams once said if people cannot have justice officially, they will have it unofficially. And unofficially, at the moment, means by going to the theater.