Theatre and Theology

29 Mar

Easter_breads 2

In the Gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Judas wails:


You’ve started to believe the things they say of you,

You really do believe this talk of God is true.

And all the good you’ve done will soon be swept away,

You’ve begun to matter more than the things you say!!!”

which pretty well sums up many a modern attitude to Christianity.

It’s the ethical teachings of Jesus that are the important part, not the ontology. And these ethical teachings can be distilled down to we should be nice to each other – and we hardly need Christianity to tell us that.

I find the dismissal of the ontological fascinating, not because I believe Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of the divine, but because of what it suggests about our culture.

And I want to explore what it suggests about our theatre culture, in particular.

I don’t write theatre reviews, but rather what I call responses. I bang on about what the plays say – at least, what they say to me. I’m interested in their ethics, so to speak.

But what about their ontology, so to speak, their attitude to being?

We give this little thought, just as we give little thought to the claims made about Jesus.  In fact, like the claims about Jesus, we’re not even sure what we’re being asked to accept.

The ontological claim made about Jesus is that he was both human and divine.

What is the ontological claim made about theatre?

That it represents some aspect of reality. What we see on stage is meant, on some level, to reflect an aspect of human existence.

This might seem obvious. After all, it’s why we can admire a juggler, but despite her obvious skill, won’t consider her work to be theatre.

So, by making theatre, we’re saying something about the nature of existence.

A piece of theatre says existence is like this.

Or it’s like that.

Today, I don’t want to quibble about the this or that.

I just want to point out that theatre is always saying existence is like something.

And what’s the word that keeps repeating in this formula?

Existence is like….

What enormous weight is being carried by that one little word – like.

My Easter mystery.

Veronica Kaye

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