David Benedict on theatre

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As Oscar Wilde observed in The Importance of Being Earnest, 'the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Drama thrives on contradiction and conflict and a playwright who proposes a single viewpoint is headed for trouble. Issue-based drama constantly flirts with this tendency, often taking an all too simplistic line on a situation where subject matter alone can force a suspension of critical analysis. The Normal Heart is a classic case: a widely-praised and hugely important piece of theatre - an angry response to America's lethargic reaction to Aids - and a lousy play.

Disability plays are a kind of subset of issue drama. Liberal dramatists tend to portray their subjects as victims, typified by plays like Emlyn Williams's thriller Wait Until Dark. The scene everyone remembers from the movie version is the woman-in-peril climax where Audrey Hepburn smashes all the lights, leaving her attacker in the dark. Why? She's blind: darkness gives her temporary power. But the overwhelming feeling we have is one of pity. Phil Young's Crystal Clear is slightly more sophisticated with its not altogether successful attempt to deal with the pity itself.

Phelim Rowland's new play, Seeing Marie (above), uses a character's blindness as a springboard to examine something separate, in this case, the complexities of friendship. More playwrights could afford to realise that the disabled are not just there to be problematised.

'Seeing Marie' is at the Old Red Lion (071-837 7816) See Beyond the West End, North

(Photograph omitted)

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