THEATRE / edge of the seat

Theatre de Complicite's Simon McBurney on a transforming moment in thea tre history
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The Independent Culture
The difference between theatre and most other art forms is that it is immediate, it is first hand. The person who's up on stage is actually sweating and falling over and if you wanted to shoot him you could. As we grow older our present time appea rs to be smaller and smaller, and that is part of why theatre exists. It's an important chink of our lives which assures us we are in the present.

At the end of the 1970s a very influential production for me was directed by a Japanese man called Shuji Terayama. In this piece he did a version of Jonathan Swift's Directions to Servants in which all the actors were playing servants and masters, and interchanged. This play metamorphosed at the end of the show in one incredible moment when they were no longer able to be either masters or servants, and all hierarchy broke down; they were changing roles so fast it was impossible to tell who was being who . Then the lights went down, and a single light came up in the middle of the stage. You suddenly became aware of the floor moving. And then you realised that it wasn't the floor moving, it was a carpet of human bodies moving across the floor like fish,w riggling and turning. It seemed to go on forever, as if the light itself were moving over the bodies, but this wasn't the case, it was the bodies moving under the light. Suddenly all the images of mass humanity that you see on the TV, where people turn i nto just bodies, was brought to life in a single movement created by about 25 people and one light source - and no word being said. It was profoundly moving, and yet its meaning was not reduced to that of a trite academic conclusion. We were left with a feeling of openness and uplift, whereas so often at the end of events I feel a sense of disappointment, like the last line of a play. And that, for me, suggested that an end can take many forms. An end is not a wall or conclusion, but a note that goes on forever, or a view that disappears into the infinite.