After complaining about how the Chaise Longue we used in An Ideal Husband had been cluttering up my living room for the past few weeks, I must confess that it was not without some sadness that I helped to return it to its rightful home this morning (many thanks Joe Makin Theatre at JMU, by the way). It can be hard for me to let go of a show at the best of times - I miss the people and the occupation and the creativity, if not the stress. In this case I have formed a peculiar attachment to Oscar and his philosophy of beauty and the decadent cadence of his works. And even if I couldn't afford to fill my flat with Art Nouveau, chinoiserie, lilies and orchids, at least the old chaise was lending an air of decayed grandeur that is not out of place in my late Victorian par-de-terre. Besides, Princess Lulu had refused to sleep on anything else since it arrived - in fact, vacuuming away the cat hairs this morning was the most difficult part of letting it go.
I've already discussed how the last remnant of Liverpool Left Theatre came to be presenting costume drama to the middle classes of south Liverpool. Well another part of the rationale was that we would be able to use the proceeds of this to support the production of less popular drama to smaller audiences, with much more obvious social comment. This strategy backfired this year, partly due to our inimicable British summer finally emptying the contents of the sky on us, and partly because we aren't yet popular enough to fill up the Palm House in order to pay for it. I'm not sure, though, that everyone in the company would regret the demise of our Summer Shows, and members occupying the provisional wing of the company are already pushing for a push to the left in both our content and our target audiences. But what might this mean?
Well, you could subscribe to the idea that political theatre must have some overt, didactic political message. Quite where you find such plays, I'm not sure. You could look to the Champagne Socialists of the 1980's, I suppose - some ex-BBC luvvie playwrights who hated Thatcher but couldn't quite bring themselves to stick up for the IRA. Or we might find a contemporary writer who was prepared for amateurs to try out their plays in an attempt to stop the War/GM foods/Ryanair etc.
Or you could argue, as I do, that it is not the play, but the intention that is political. Here we see that it doesn't matter if you are putting on Caryl Churchill or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as long as you are bringing people into contact with theatre (either as participants or spectators), who might not otherwise be prepared to miss their mid-week soaps for the amateur stage (it's not the same on catch-up). The trouble with this approach is that you could use it as a Busby Berkeley Licence to do any old frou-frou nonsense, and never perform serious theatre again.
Finally you could argue that it is neither the play, nor the cast nor the target audience that is political, but rather the production itself. We should be challenging the boundaries of drama prescribed to us by the bourgeoisie, using new techniques, unconventional locations and cutting edge performance arts... In this approach it doesn't matter if you put on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Caryl Churchill and Chekhov altogether, as long as you include multimedia projections and elements of modern dance.
So how does my recent fixation with Oscar Wilde fit in with all of this? (I posted his portrait as my profile picture to promote the show on Facebook, by the way, and now I can't bear to take it down). Well, if our most frivolous work is an open challenge to social hypocrisy and political corruption, then perhaps we are, albeit anachronistically, not far from the political mark.
Or could it be that I'm intellectualising without true cause, in which case I'm already on my way to be dismissed as a lacky of the chattering classes (or the bourgeois intelligentsia as the powerful people who have hated us would have it). After all, our recent productions have included plays by Pinter, Shaw, Wilde, Orton, and Caryl Churchill's most recent work, as well as a newly-written traditional pantomime involving nearly everyone who we know.
Perhaps we'll never get the balance better than this. And if we were truly political creatures, we wouldn't be debating our content, but rather how to get people "on message". I can't help wishing, that we could enjoy a bit of the accidental popularity of Max Bialystock in Mel Brookes film The Producers, though:
"How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?"