Re­volver. Stage Struck

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Peter Craw­ley on a wor­ry­ing crime wave in the theatre

CON­SIDER THIS. It’s late at night and you’re at home play­ing World of War­craft, or won­der­ing what you’re do­ing with your life, or per­haps sleep­ing. But what’s this? A strange sound draws you out, only to dis­cover – gasp! – a bur­glar pour­ing over your pre­cious col­lec­tion of Sa­muel Beck­ett ac­tion fig­ures or sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion ipod ac­ces­sories.

Do you a) beat a swift re­treat, bar­ri­cade your­self in your be­d­room and call the cops? b) ex­ert your re­cent home de­fence bill right to use “rea­son­able force”, such as shoot­ing them, be­fore they steal your gun per­mit? Or c) en­gage them in a lengthy con­ver­sa­tion, last­ing be­tween 90 min­utes and two hours, in which the bal­ance of power sub­tly shifts be­tween you, prefer­ably along a three-act struc­ture?

The vic­tims come off as more vil­lain­ous than the crim­i­nal

If you an­swered c) you are clearly de­luded, and you have come to the right col­umn.

The theatre has fallen prey to a deeply wor­ry­ing crime wave. The epi­demic be­gan a few weeks ago with Aoife Cre­han’s Thresh­old, in which a cou­ple and their friend re­ported a bur­glary af­ter de­ploy­ing force rea­son­able enough to kill the guy.

It quickly spread to Man­hat­tan, or Morna Re­gan’s ver­sion of it, for

The House Keeper, where a des­ti­tute sin­gle mom forced her way into a wealthy shut-in’s brown­stone. And, most re­cently, an af­flu­ent young Belfast cou­ple ap­pre­hended, beat and in­ter­ro­gated a teenage bur­glar with the help of vig­i­lante neigh­bours in Tim Loane’s The

Civil­i­sa­tion Game at the Lyric. (Add the Gate’s My Cousin

Rachel, es­sen­tially a mur­der mys­tery with an un­wanted vis­i­tor, and Fiona Looney’s Greener, which re­ports the rob­bery of a brown bin, and you wouldn’t want to en­ter a theatre with­out a base­ball bat.)

Now, as the cops will ask, what is the na­ture of this dis­tur­bance? The first is tech­ni­cal: how do play­wrights quickly in­tro­duce strangers into fa­mil­iar cir­cum­stances for in­stant drama? An­swer: leave the win­dow open.

The next is so­cial: last year, the num­ber of bur­glar­ies reached a record high in Ire­land as criminals re­alised there’s less money in co­caine these days than in mat­tresses. And the last is moral: how in­no­cent are the vic­tims in all these the­atri­cal cases? An­swer, pre­dictably: guilty as sin.

It says some­thing that the char­ac­ters here all take the law into their own hands, as though we’ve lost all faith in au­thor­ity. It’s more cu­ri­ous that the home­own­ers, morally du­bi­ous or har­bour­ing ugly se­crets, come off as more vil­lain­ous than the crim­i­nal, as though we’ve lost faith in peo­ple. But there may be an­other rea­son why play­wrights are sid­ing with the tres­passer.

Where au­di­ences are ex­pected to ini­tially iden­tify with some­one un­der siege, play­wrights are ex­pected to go where they are not wel­come and rum­mage through un­com­fort­able truths.

It sounds grandiose, and these moral bait-and-switch tac­tics are be­gin­ning to feel like a swin­dle. But in these times it isn’t hard to be­lieve that al­most ev­ery­one has a care­ful de­fence built around a vul­ner­a­ble con­science. The theatre’s only crime, then, is break­ing and en­ter­ing.

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