Theatre can provide respite from the real world – but it can also share our confusion at the chaos that surrounds us and show us that we are not alone
Richard Nelson | Sun 28 Jun 2020 12.42 BST
The director Peter Brook was once asked, “What is the future of theatre?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied: “Tell me, what is the future of food?” In the middle of huge social upheaval, civil unrest, deep-seated injustice and a devastating worldwide pandemic that has caused economic chaos and widespread personal tragedy, why put on a play? When the world feels so profoundly uncertain, why do theatre?
Let’s say one even finds the time, resources and outlets to do some sort of play; when there are no theatres open or live audiences, what sort of play do these times require, if any? Does theatre have a role in a world in flux that is in so much pain, is protesting and is facing profound uncertainty? Or does it have a responsibility? Maybe even an opportunity?
There are of course different ways to answer these questions. There are many examples of theatre being a rich and entertaining expression of protest and ideologies, with theatre-makers putting to work their full range of theatrical tools for a specific cause. At other times, theatre has been a necessary escape from a troubled world; a momentary respite from conflicts raging outside its walls.