Thursday, January 24, 2008

Billington talking balls

Michael Billington is a venerable, much-respected theatre critic who has been first string at the Guardian since Euripides was wondering how to end Medea. However, he seems to have been filing in haste rather than offering something serious in his review of David Hare's The Vertical Hour:
If you want a definition of good drama, this is it: the confrontation of two irreconcilable ideas eloquently stated.
Surely a man who has seen countless plays realises that two equal and opposite forces - however elegantly put - are a debate, not a drama? If he wants this sort of sophisticated ding-dong, he should read Hansard from Churchill's era.

Yes, drama can certainly be derived from two strong views well-expressed - from Aeschylus' Oresteia to Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to David Mamet's Oleanna - but if you apply this template to a sample of acknowledged masterpieces, you'll see how short it falls.

Take Lear. This is not an oppositional play but rather a play about the unravelling of a person and his journey into human nature; similarly, no-one thinks Hamlet's enemies have a decent point to make. Sweeney Todd is dramatic but has two characters in agreement, not conflict. From the other point of view, watching Sophocles' Ajax in its later stages is like having teeth pulled by a debating society as points-of-view fly back and forth.

Drama of course derives from conflict, but it needn't be a conflict with another eloquent cypher.

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