A potent public speech

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I once attended a low key awards ceremony for playwrights. I hadn’t heard of the award before the event, but it turned out to be significant, as some of the recipients through the years include senior talents such as Soyinka and Stoppard. There was a keynote speaker who is also a major talent – Edward Bond. I knew little about Mr Bond’s work before that evening, but his speech sent me home, wanting to find out as much as I could.

The speaker addressed his audience with a bristling energy that kept many of us on the edge of our seats. He spoke about the role of theatre as major part of the system of governance in Ancient Greece and was dismissive of the way that Shakespeare’s legacy has been maintained in British theatre.

At the heart of what he said, there was a message about the deadly nature of theatre that is made as cosy entertainment for bourgeois folks to enjoy, in plush seats. It is possible that I have written about that remarkable evening before, but I’m happy to revisit this theme, because it is useful as a personal memo about the reasons for creating performing arts work.

Why do we tell children stories, for example? Does this practice provide opportunities for the listeners (and the tellers) to learn new things about human nature, values and the ways that we express our thoughts and feelings?

How is this different from providing chewing gum for the mind? Should it matter whether the information is disseminated in a village square, or in a specially designed space with fabulous facilities? Does there need to be a reassessment of the reasons for doing the work we do, if we are practitioners?