The necessity of our art
It seems to me that every age applies its imprimatur onto Shakespeare because he essentially is only writing about three things: who are we, what are we, why are we? And human nature is immutable. The human condition may be changed and, hopefully, it will change for the better. But what we are – why we are – is still the great imponderable and really the only questions worth asking.
We are in a world where each day on the street, on the train on the bus, people are apparently talking to themselves. But they’re not. They’re talking to someone on the phone using their headphones. That interaction, that exchange, that ‘in the now’ of being on the bus, on the train, in the street, is becoming more and more distant.
And that’s disastrous. If that’s going to be the pattern for the future where so much we receive, be it news, be it entertainment, is via a screen. It has no shared community around it.
You cannot have real, live theatre – that unique experience – without real people. In the theatre, every performance is the first time you’ve done it; you’ve never played to that audience before.
I said that human nature was immutable. I think The Old Vic has a reputation that is equally immutable. It’s a lovely theatre to be in; it’s a lovely theatre to play in. It has, undoubtedly, a well-earned magic which has nothing to do exclusively with longevity. But all theatres are an empty space until you have a play and an audience. And that’s as true for The Vic as it is for anywhere else.
Looking at The Old Vic, not only because of its past but what it’s done in the recent past and what Matthew is doing with it now in the future – that idea of attracting people who would not automatically think of going to the theatre – shows a vital energy resource. Because there isn’t going to be any theatre in the future if we don’t create the desire to go; if we don’t allow people to understand that it can be a unique experience. When it works, there’s nowhere else like it in the world.
It’s extraordinary, is it not, that a group of strangers comes in quite by chance, sits down in the dark, and another group of strangers come on in the light, and somehow there is an energy that goes from the light to the dark? And that, when it works, is reinforced and sent back. Hopefully, a perfect circle is created.
And I’m sentimental enough to think that could be a model of an ideal society. It would be terrible if we lost that hope.
The Old Vic is London’s independent not-for-profit theatre which means it receives no government subsidy. The Old Vic has been here for almost 200 years – find out how you can help us continue to create unique experiences and secure our future.