More than entertainment

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Theatre, in its nature, is one of the most joyful forms of entertainment. The lights and music, the steps and dance, and the comedic banter on stage are associated with a good night out and relaxation. I recently spoke to Jake Murray, director for Elysium Theatre Company’s Reiver: Tales from the Borders and actors Matthew Howdon and Elaine MacNichol to discuss the play and their experience so far rehearsing for it, and in the philosophical turn that our conversation took, I reflected on how theatre is, and has always been, much more than entertainment. It is a form of art that confronts you right to your face on what others experience; the good, the ugly, and the human.

Reiver: Tales from the Border is touring the North this October, telling the tales of the lawless families who terrorised the Anglo-Scottish borders for 400 years, exploring the idea of good and evil and the power they hold over each other. In the few years that I’ve done theatre, I have encountered so many dark themes and moments that make me feel stunned in my seat, loss for words in the face of the evil in the world, and how what happens on stage reflects on my current world. Matthew reflected on this while speaking of the play: “The moment in time that the play is set, there was so much evil – it was a very harsh and brutal time, but the politics of the time resonate today. There is a line that resonates with contemporary audience; what is a real home? What is elsewhere? What is beyond that?”

I believe that one of the greatest gifts of theatre is the way it is able to touch hearts

I believe that one of the greatest gifts of theatre is the way it is able to touch hearts and make people think of the things that won’t casually come up in a conversation over dinner. It is impressive to think that a solitary figure on stage is able to give you a landscape of experience and emotions – ones that you perhaps hope that you will never have to go through, and yet on the other hand, help you get t h r o u g h it. I think of actors like Matt and Elaine, with Jake’s strong directions, and how they are able to hold a stage for almost an hour, purely from the depth of the connection they have with the story that they are telling.

Matthew shares his views on the portrayal of difficult themes on stage with me: “Every story that you remember and you enjoyed, every single one involves a struggle at some point – something to overcome, something that went wrong […] and I think that’s the moment people relate to […] Because it’s art, it’s the way that those [difficult] subjects are approached and the way in which that they’re confronted that made you think that you actually don’t know how to react to a piece of art until you see it, and I think it’s that struggle that people can really relate to.”

I reflected on how theatre is, and has always been, much more than entertainment

The best theatre that I remember were the ones where I felt seen, in all the ways I never felt like I was. To face the black and white that I have in me and feel human in my seat in the theatre, are the most impactful. Despite the lights and the spotlight, I am always in awe of theatre’s ability to let me reflect and think about the things that are important to me and open my eyes to the world that is happening around me. So much good theatre exists to hold my hand in confronting the darkness I turn away from, and that in itself is so valuable.

I asked Jake what he hopes people would think of when they leave the theatre after seeing the play, and he said to me: “I simply hope they come out and think; “I’m never going to forget that. It has opened new doors for me, and it has made me think about the things that I need to think about, and mainly, it has made me realise the things that we are able to do with theatre”.   As an audience, a theatremaker, and a person who writes about and reflects on theatre, my conversation with Jake, Matt, and Elaine felt like such a gentle reminder of how much theatre is able to show you the darkness of the world, but also hold your hand and help you get through the tunnel. It reminds me of how it will always act as both a mirror of our reality, and at the same time, a time capsule to the past we will never see. Reiver: Tales from the Borders is touring the North this October.

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