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.