Tag Archives: Faith

The Polar Express (the train of life)

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I’m not the first to look for the deeper meaning in the animated film The Polar Express. It is a wise film interspersing thoughtful conversation with high action – it would make a thrilling fast ride at a theme park.  The music is also wonderful – it would also make a great musical.

train

Faith, and lack of it, along with the innocence and loss of childhood, are big themes, but also the general challenges of life that we experience whether child or adult. There are some key one-liners from the train conductor (Tom Hanks) – I thought one might pop up “it’s not the destination but the journey that is important” but instead, better, it’s: “it doesn’t matter where the train goes, it’s making the decision to get on it that matters.”

Hanks

It is a risk for all the children to jump on the train but they do and discover aspects of themselves that they either didn’t know they had or find they needed confirmation of the qualities they did have. On the journey they are challenged, but also helped, by Doubt – the spirit of the dishevelled, teasing spirit of a man who appears on and off in various parts of the train – also played by Tom Hanks.

This pairing of these two characters (conductor and spirit man) could be seen as theological – Hope (the conductor) and Doubt (the dishevelled, teasing spirit of a man) are two sides of the same coin. We experience one with the other in most cases, but with friendship, empathy, and our own individual reflection, we can get through them.  Three of the children become good mates – one boy struggles particularly with the concept of Christmas (we’re not given details but we assume he’s had a tricky home life, is lonely, and certainly doesn’t come from a wealthy background) but he is valued by his two friends.

boy

Materially the children are on the search for presents but learn a great deal more about the gifts they already have within them and also what they need to learn and do to maintain hope and faith. The conductor makes a passing but key comment ‘sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.’

Holding onto the unseen is the challenge in life – the symbol of the bell in the film personifies this. Doubt says you must see to believe.  Hope says you sometimes have to believe in order to understand, and to see.

bell

Happy Christmas.

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The Dangers of Labelling

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The Christians by Lucas Hnath. Published by Nick Hern Books and first performed at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Louisville, Kentucky, 8 March 2014. The Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, 8 September – 3 October.

I’d heard very positive comments on this play from its time in New York in 2015, the 2015 Edinburgh Festival and its transfer to The Gate Theatre. I was not disappointed and came away troubled – and reminded – about the reality of a religion (and perhaps religion in general).

The staging is simple and you walk into a deliberately blurred setting between drama and church. The Gate is a tiny theatre so the stage and its joyful choir on the stage are very close.  A luminous cross sits at the back of the stage in between their two sides.  In front of the choir are two standing microphones from where Pastor Paul (a brilliant William Gaminara from TV’s Silent Witness) and Associate Pastor Joshua deliberate the theology of salvation to the shock of their congregation – which is both the choir behind them and us the audience.

The microphones are at first a distraction since the whole script is delivered through them, but we have to remember that this is a ‘mega’ church in America. I also found the microphones to be metaphors: when you are talking about your faith and particularly when what you say is controversial, it does feel like the whole world is listening, and likely making its judgment.

The whole play hangs on the question ‘what happens when you die if you are not a Christian?’ and Pastor Paul is haunted by his witnessing of a boy who runs into a burning house to save his sister’s life only to lose his own. The boy worships a different God and is likely to never have heard of Jesus Christ.  As Stephen Portlock of the Independent Catholic News, October 8th, says, ‘Ghastly as is the notion of this compassionate young man going to Hell, it is hardly less of a travesty of justice than that of an all forgiving God who places the murderer and his victim together in Heaven.  Furthermore, if salvation is open to all then why bother being a Christian at all?’

Gaminara delivers the powerful sermon with his news that he does not believe in Hell with complete sensitivity, earnestness and passion, and manages empathy too. The aftermath is devastating – members of his congregation leave as does his colleague and friend Joshua, whom Paul had mentored, feeling betrayed that he drops a theological bomb shell at this point in time when all the church’s debts are paid off from the congregation’s gifts, and his marriage faces a split.  At the start you support Pastor Paul in his strength and want to believe what he says, but the catastrophic implications come crashing down.  He didn’t share any of this, what some would call, revisionist and progressive theology with his wife until she hears it with thousands of others on a Sunday morning.  Suddenly you realise that faith is never really private.  It affects how you behave to others, and what they think of you.

Pastor Paul

Pastor Paul

There isn’t time here to go into issues of translations of words in the Bible which the play spends some time discussing but in a nutshell, Pastor Paul reminds us about taking the words of Jesus out of context; and one issue did hit me with almost horrendous resonance for the 21st century world we try to comprehend: we label people into ‘Christians’ and ‘non Christians’ with one group going here after death and one group going there after death (as if we can even have any understanding of what life after death could be – we cannot), and in labelling them we forget that a big part of Christianity is about trying to make a heaven on earth through ‘loving one another’ and embracing the stranger. Pastor Paul alerts us to the potential of the pollution of Christian behaviour when it twists, and uses the example of a group of thieves – they stick together because amongst themselves they don’t keep telling each other how useless or ‘bad’ they are.  The thieves are alike in the way they have gone wrong in life.  Christians are their own worst enemy with phrases such as ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’ – if you are in the latter camp, whether you are a thief or whether you just happen to have been born into a culture where Jesus just isn’t around, then yes, you may well feel worthless if you are condemned as ‘unsaved’.  Let us not forget the words of Jesus to the thief that hung on the cross next to him.  Thankfully for him, he went to his death released from the ‘bad’ ghetto that society had put him in.

Pastor Paul, at the start of the play, says he has a powerful urge to communicate but that he finds the distance barrier insurmountable. You realise what he means as the play goes on and it’s shattering, as by admitting his struggle with this part of the Christian faith he loses much of what he holds dear – but at the same time there is the all too real fact that by putting the human race into categories we create distance between ourselves as we simply label ourselves as different. (The Dalai Lama said the same thing, The Big Issue, 28 September 2015.) Either way there is huge loneliness.

Before this turns into a sociological essay, let me turn to the author. Hnath says that when he was younger he wanted to be a preacher but didn’t want to be responsible for other people’s souls so he switched to medicine but then didn’t want to worry about other people’s bodies.  So he became a playwright (full interview on http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/).  Ironically, in writing this play, he has partly become responsible for how people feel about their souls and bodies.  He says of the play ‘…lack of obvious resolution can be uncomfortable, agitating… And maybe something more complex and true becomes visible within the agitation…I think back to a [picture in the] physics class I took [pre-med days].  The picture is of a very tiny particle. The only way you can see the particle is by colliding it with many other particles, from many different angles.’

The Bible presents us with challenging situations resulting in unanswerable questions – and contradictions. It is the particle in collision with others.  But then I’m reminded of the person of Jesus – denying self in order to find Self.  We see him as coming to earth as a man – one of the reasons being to understand what it was to be human.  But he became accessible – living as ‘other’ to be at one with us.  So there is a contradiction right there.  He was an explicit human but implicitly God so who are we to judge that someone is not explicitly Christian? – the fact is, Jesus was not always recognised for the entity he was so for us to be dividing people into who might go to Heaven and  who might go to Hell, seems far beyond us, when we recognise the implications of what this does.  I leave the last words to Hnath:

‘A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is – at least for a moment – made visible.  The theatre can be that too.’

with cross

Inside Out Theatre

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Richard Armitage, currently playing John Proctor in The Crucible at London’s Olc Vic theatre, says he approaches John from the inside.  He says he is not a character who can be ‘put on’ from the outside.  The fact that he draws from within himself is displayed for all to see on stage.  It is a raw and honest portrayal of a man exposed for all the wrong reasons; John Proctor is a beacon of truth in a society ravaged by its own paranoia and eaten up by its abuse of religion.

JP

It is fitting that Armitage is so willing and able to act this part from the inside, as the play’s subject matter is that of a society being attacked from its inner core; the values it thinks it lives by are the very values which are responsible for its destruction.

As with all Arthur Miller’s plays, we should learn from this.

The universality of Les Miserables

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I’d been excited about the transfer of Les Miserables from book to stage, and now to film for a while.  I’ve now seen the film and it is the best film I’ve ever seen.  I was so pleased that the reality of the characters and life at the time rang true – it was much more raw and disturbing than I’d expected, and, surprisingly untheatrical.  The characters bring a truth through song that has not been witnessed before – they are not ‘performing’ – they are living with the reality of the story.

I always thought that the reason why Les Miserables has done so well in the world theatres during its 28 year run is because the story addresses emotions and questions that ‘everyman’ asks at some point.  It is set against a severe background of poverty; scenes of which have not gone away in many countries, but even if the poverty aspect was removed, the characters are still like us in their search for forgiveness, purpose, love, recognition and peace.

I could not fault the casting in the film – none of them were sensational – all of them had the vitality and earnestness that was needed for us to relate to the characters.  The character of Javert (the police inspector on the trail of Valjean all his life) is the ambiguous character in the story – Javert believes he knows right from wrong but Valjean is a man who rocks Javert’s boat of once steadfast morals.  Russell Crowe plays Javert with heartbreaking sensitivity who in the end cannot face the fact that his version of goodness has been turned on its head by one who he thought was ‘bad’.  Crowe does brilliantly at showing how Javert grows in doubt:

Javert

and the way he sings throughout also matches his outward aim of rightness and smartness but inwardly those defiinitions are challenged.  His voice has a pure, clear tone to it and he struggles not with reaching the high notes in ‘Stars’ – as his character does not struggle in condemning Valjean – until Valjean challenges Javert’s moral position.  There is a beautiful moment in the film between Gavroche and Javert when the line between rich/poor, old/young and experience/inexperience is crossed.  Crowe’s face says it all at that point.

Gavroche

Gavroche, above, captures the innocence and courage of childhood, matched by the leadership and fight for equality by Enjolras, the amazing student leader (Aaron Tweit):

Enjolras

The characters bounce off each other as much on set as off.  The issues that connect the characters are the same issues that connect the actors and audience.  The character who you could say comes off worst is Eponine, played with great understanding by Samantha Barks.

Eponine

Her loyalty to Marius is known only to her and she is a catalyst to Valjean becoming aware of Cosette’s love for Marius.  I’ve mentioned Valjean but not the actor who plays him – Hugh Jackman is astounding and allows the audience to see his soul.

Valjean

The gift of singing in the film also allows us to see and hear everything and more about the characters.  It is as much about ‘how’ they say something (in song) as ‘what’ they say.  What they say is so profound that the genre of song allows the audience to absorb and think about what they say much better than if it was simply said.  Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine (above in the pink dress in the picture) would not be as real if it was said.  Her song allows her to go the extra mile.  Tom Hooper has done a magnificent job in directing this film.

One of the most moving moments for fans of Les Miserables like me who’ve known the musical since the beginning, is seeing Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne.  Wilkinson was the original Valjean when the stage musical opened at the Barbican, London, and seeing him return as the Bishop – the character who gives Valjean his life back, is layered with meaning.  From one Valjean to another.  From one generation to another has Victor Hugo’s story lived.  And, if viewers think Wilkinson as the Bishop is meaningful, wait until you get to the end of the film and the weight of the story’s meaning, and the actors who’ve made it live for us, is a revelation.

Valjean (Jackman) sits with the Bishop (Wilkinson) and the famous candlesticks

Valjean (Jackman) sits with the Bishop (Wilkinson) and the famous candlesticks

A Drama group that radiates more than just Theatricality

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Radius welcomes people seeking to explore spiritual, social and ethical issues through drama.  As a forum for discussion it encourages a relationship between theatre and faith within contemporary culture and promotes plays that throw light on the human condition.  Radius offers scripts for performance, an assessment service for new plays, a series of study guides, a magazine and a programme of workshops.  Radius is interested in all art forms, whether or not the form articulates a religious theme; and even if it does that theme may not be explicit.

Radius was founded in 1929 and is a registered charity (charity number 214943).  If you are at all interested, do visit the website http://www.radiusdrama.org.uk for The Religious Drama Society of Great Britain, Radius.

Most meaning in life is implicit…Radius helps search for it.

Imagination and the need for Creative Space

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The London School of Economics Literary Festival is relatively new – I attended for the first time in 2010 and having heard just how many subject areas were covered in a short space of time I hope to attend the one in February 2012. In this article I plan to review the areas of the two talks I attended, showing how they had a natural relation to drama and possibly belief/spirituality.

‘The Imagined Mind’ was a joint talk between the Institute of Social Psychology and the Department of Anthropology, focusing on the need for imagination, now more than ever before in the digitised world we live in. In the world of Developmental Psychology, research shows that adults have strong emotional reactions to the untrue, e.g., fictional films. Such genres help us to develop our moral judgement.

For this kind of moral development to take place, therefore, we need an imagination: we use fiction to consciously or unconsciously help us make moral decisions and judgements about real life situations. It is through images that we explore other minds – fiction in theatre, film, art and literature provides these images. The author William Fiennes (author of The Snow Geese and The Music Room) explained that in his view there is no need to divide creativity and science. The more specific a story, the more general its message because we all draw different things from it – this, he said, is the transcendent aspect of story, whether the written word or performed word. Likewise, the Psychoanalyst Susie Orbach (author of Bodies and Fat is a Feminist Issue) explains that the analyst has to study her/himself in order to reflect on the patient. One must watch the mind being aware of itself. Every moment in fact is both a real and imagined one because we don’t see things all the same way.
I think this is the same process in theatre and faith.

It could be said that our minds have begun to work like the gadgets we use in society – our minds can be like computers, categorising into groups, and we find ourselves less able to cross-pollinate. We are in fact constrained in the world of ‘free choice’, simply because the creative space between ourselves and the outside world is vanishing. A commercial world has taken over and we face ‘prescriptions’ on how the body is, not what it might be (Dr Sandra Jovchelovitch), and the only medium left which gives us space (and indeed where space is a necessary pre-requisite) is the arts. Being able to interpret gives possibility, even if we discover some uncomfortable truths. As Thomas Dewar says, “Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.”

‘Theatre of Action?’ was the second talk, given by theatre director John Caird (RSC, National Theatre, musicals such as Les Miserables) and playwright Matt Charman (‘The Observer’). The talk focused on the political nature of theatre in its search for truth. Caird cited the Preface to Bernard Shaw’s ‘Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant’, 1898, as his springboard: “The theatre is growing in importance as a social organ. Bad theatres are as mischievous as bad schools or bad churches; for modern civilization is rapidly multiplying the class to which the theatre is both school and church. Public and private life become daily more theatrical…”

Caird’s belief is that one can’t look to the church or politics for the truth because both always have an axe to grind that isn’t the truth. Good theatre however does not have an agenda so can provide this kind of guidance because it is able to debate with itself about what life could be – a bit like the mind needing to have a conversation with itself in Orbach’s illustration above. Great plays trouble and confuse – they celebrate ambiguity. Charman points out that audiences do not want answers, rather they want an accepted space to ask questions. In Howard Barker’s superb book Arguments for a Theatre, 1989, he takes this further and says: “A braver theatre asks the audience to test the validity of the categories it believes it lives by…”. Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and Hare’s Plenty tackle idealism but neither comes loaded with an agenda and instead they allow the audience to step in to the character and make them wonder what they would do. Each member of the audience has to imagine what it might do and this is what makes political theatre.

In an article on the film director Michael Moore (controversial because he offers truth), Andrew O’Hagan writes: “Moore has built a global audience by remembering one of the basic premises of cinema: it was not invented to sedate people (though it very often does) but to inflame them … It’s worth remembering that when he was a child, Michael Moore wanted to be a priest, and as a film-maker, and as a character on film, he is full of evangelical brio. He wants to tell the truth, and part of the joy of his film outings is in watching the efforts…that corporations will go to in trying to shut him up.” (Evening Standard, 26.3.10, pp.34-35).

Similarly, Sebastian Shakespeare in his article If a film is good, must it take pains to be true?, focuses more on the psychology that “art is a lie that makes us realise the truth” (Picasso) and illustrates again the need for imagination and for the audience to do the work – it’s not about the actors and writer (and could be likened also to the church and its congregation: it’s not just about the Bible or priest but what the listener does with the words): “In the end it doesn’t matter whether a film is true or not, it only matters whether you believe it to be true” (Standard, 5.3.10, p.15). Now I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter if the words of the Bible or a sermon are true or not (I happen to think it does matter but this is another article) – I am however talking about the psychological process and saying that being ‘truthful’ is different from the truth.

I’ll explain: The Hurt Locker, for all its Oscar glory, was said to have portrayed EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) troops wrongly. It is however a brilliant film and director Kathryn Bigelow deserved that recognition. In many ways, however, Avatar and District 9 are more truthful as they engage with geo-politics, oppression and exploitation, through the giant prawn figures in the latter and the blue creatures resembling humans in the former, in a metaphorical and allegorical way. The fact is, “the plight of the Na’avi is being replicated all over the world, from the Amazon to Angola”: we know the victims are not blue and flying on huge bird-like creatures, but we also know that we ourselves are destroying the planet and this message is even greater in the film because of the fantastical way it is told to us. It is simply a paradox not only that drama can be more truthful than anything we consider non-drama, but that “our imaginations are the nearest we can get to reality” (Declan Donnellan, The Actor and the Target, 2002).


So long as there is humanity, there will be need for drama, in the many ways it can happen.  After Avatar was released, statistics show that there was an outpouring of depression from people.  This is no coincidence.  People quite literally wanted to be part of that world of Avatar and not the one we all live in.

Bertolt Brecht said ‘Ghosts’ became irrelevant as soon as syphilis became curable. The play is not about syphilis Mr Brecht, and as Samuel Beckett replied, “You are human and there’s no cure for that.”

Puppetry as Reality in War Horse and beyond: why the Arts are important

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The idea for this piece of writing came from watching the extraordinary stage production of War Horse at the New London Theatre in 2009 (now a major film), followed by a lecture at Central School of Speech and Drama with the South African Handspring Puppet Company (HPC) – the people behind War Horse when it originally played at the National Theatre.

Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, founders of the HPC, believe puppetry has something particular to offer to a contemporary audience.  Most people acknowledge that the moment Joey the horse walks on stage in War Horse is a moment of awe, enchantment and often making them cry.  Kohler and Jones discussed the philosophy of this – why does an inanimate object make us emotional?  How is it that puppetry is so perceptive?  Because a puppet is a lifeless object longing to live.  It is an inanimate figure trying to live – and actually although we are not dead, we too do this – we are living on and off stage, but we often lose our presence and immediacy.  ‘Absence of being in the moment’ in life could be described as not exactly living.

A puppet’s struggles are essentially the same as ours – we live but we need to be authentic to be truly ourselves.  The puppet is a verb, not a noun.  Topthorn (Joey’s companion in battle for so long) dies – is this a puppet or a dead horse?  That puppet has already lived and we now believe this, and have been living its world with it, so it has transformed itself and our imaginations.  The audience works to make this meaning – the audience is the author.

The most interesting aspect of HPC’s philosophy is ‘Puppet as Deity’.   Although there is a lack of belief in God around these days, there is a religious impulse which resides in puppetry.  Kohler and Jones comment that theatre does in this in general anyway, but puppetry does this in disguise.  The puppeteer is a priest to the horse in the way that the puppet is used to illustrate the situation (as a priest uses bread and wine to tell a continual story).

It strikes me that puppetry is a search for an unknown language of emotions and the mystery of human nature (if you see War Horse you will understand) which faith also presents to us.  It is no accident that Handspring Puppet Company came out of a culture where the need for a shared language was sought, and it was well received in South Africa where human language was not always uniting black and white.

Why is it that it was a boom year for theatre last year?  People don’t acknowledge it, but most of us seek something which we can’t name.  What we can’t name can, by default, feel unreal – so therefore, should we bother to seek it?  Well, yes.  It is my firm belief that there is more truth in the perceived unreality of make-believe than there is in the hard reality of life.  Whether we like it or not we all have imagination and this is not an accident – this is the thing which makes us human.

The artist Chagall says: ‘All our interior world is reality – and that perhaps more so than our apparent world.  To call everything that appears illogical, ‘fantasy’, fairytale, or chimera – would be practically to admit not understanding nature.’  Years later, Salman Rushdie says the same: ‘If you grow up in India, you grow up surrounded by magic being a normal aspect of literature.  You realise that kind of writing is just as capable of getting to serious, truthful human realities as realistic writing is’ (The Metro, 13.10.2010).

Chagall painting

You find that most actors have something to say about the meaning of their job.  Kevin Spacey’s dedication to the Old Vic (rightfully gaining him a CBE) is because he believes culture is ‘the magic of life’ – a generator of economic as well as spiritual wellbeing (The Evening Standard, 4.11.2010).  The artist Paula Rego says that she tries not to ‘do art’ but rather ‘tell a story’.  Like any good acting, the intention behind it is what makes it truthful: one acts the situation, not the emotion.  And like the actors, it seems the audience feed off the stories – why has ‘The King’s Speech’ been such a hit (other than Firth and Rush being terrific)?  Because it is a story of the obstacles which we all have within ourselves which we think will stop us achieving and being the human we want to be.  The arts have this capability of being completely universal in meaning.  ‘It’s important for society to be able to reflect itself through storytelling.’  (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Guardian, 7.11.2010).

Cumberbatch in War Horse the film

What is tangible is not always what is and it is not always the solution to our living well.  There were a series of talks in 2010 at St Paul’s Cathedral on Death, Happiness, Love and Suffering.  In all four, similar themes came out: we are fixed on having, not being.  The USA and the UK spend more on advertising than any other country in the world; we also have the most cases of mental illness.  Revd. Mark Oakley, on one of the occasions, talked about the ‘perversion of Descartes’ which is ‘I’m seen, therefore I am’ (rather than, ‘I think, therefore I am’) – he established something very disturbing: ‘we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.’  Who benefits?  Nobody.  We are in a world of instant information – everything is graspable – which means nothing is graspable because once we have something we realise we don’t need it and it doesn’t make us happy.  There was a case in the press recently of the man who had 541 friends on Facebook but not one of them realised he was dead.  As George Eliot said, the texture of wisdom is different to that of information, yet it is the former we lack.

When we see or feel realness, we feel a jolt: we are out of the zone of information and in the zone of deeper wisdom where something we can’t pin down has got to us.  It’s not for nothing that Frieze Magazine in Contemporary Art and Culture brought out a complete issue in November 2010 entirely devoted to Religion and Spirituality (Issue 135).  Its opening article, ‘Believe It or Not’ by Dan Fox brings together a lot of the above:  ‘Art is a faith-based system.  Religious conviction is taken to be a sign of intellectual weakness, and yet meaning in art is itself often a question of belief.  Appeals to the immaterial are buried deep within the everyday language of art too: words such as ‘spiritual’, ‘transcendent’, ‘meditative’, and ‘sublime’ frequently occur in exhibition reviews, press releases and gallery guides.  Why does the search for some kind of spiritual fulfilment in secular art persist?  Is the idea that art has nothing to do with faith or religion just a lie we tell ourselves to hide the fact we crave something to believe in?’ (pg. 15).

But nor do I believe that we create something because we ‘crave’ for it.  I think the ‘something’ is already there – it is the thing we can’t pin down so tend to think it doesn’t exist since it’s not tangible.  The arts are a way of manifesting what doesn’t easily come to the surface naturally.  I mentioned ‘The King’s Speech’ – explicitly it’s about a public man who stammers – but implicitly it’s about an obstacle that makes him feel inadequate.  I can think of many paintings and sculptures that display explicitly a scene, but actually are about a bigger universal theme.  I think of Vaughan Williams’ music and it so vividly describes the English countryside as it was (and still is if we look after it) but it reaches further also to evoke a time of great loss of life and heritage (i.e. two world wars) which will never be tangible again.  The people and that way of life are gone.

Call art, music, dance and drama, signposts, but I think they are more as they contain meaning as well as pointing beyond.  Likewise I think the way we illustrate faith is very similar.  Unfortunately belief about God is more complex (and I actually find talking about faith hard as everyone gets so offended these days) but if you think of the Bible stories, yes they are about something, but always point beyond to a larger theme.  Every good sermon does this.  ‘We still rely on artists, curators and critics to act as interpreters of contingent meaning, aesthetic creeds or art world ‘ethics’, just as rabbis, imams and priests do.  People go to galleries on Sundays instead of churches.  Appeals to the immaterial are buried deep within the everyday language of art too: words such as ‘spiritual’, ‘transcendent’, ‘meditative’, and ‘sublime’ frequently occur in exhibition reviews, press releases and gallery guides’ (Dan Fox, Frieze Magazine, pg. 15).

Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

In conclusion, I come back to War Horse and puppetry.  Joey and Topthorn are many things: lifeless objects with no emotion until moved by a human, living beings which move humans to tears, not only taking us back to a catastrophic time in human history but reminding us of our vulnerability and our own capacity for evil.  The puppets move, and work with our imaginations to make us feel compassion for all the horses that received horrific injuries and died.  So, quite clearly our imagination in this instance is not to make something magical into a truth – it is the reverse – portraying something truthful in a magical setting (the stage).

We need these arenas that the arts provide therefore – to do precisely this: present something which is truthful, in a truthful way (i.e. story) through the medium of imagination to show us that just because something isn’t immediately graspable, doesn’t mean it is not there.

Peter Brook in ‘There Are No Secrets’:

‘Truth can never be defined, nor grasped, but the theatre is a machine which enables all its participants to taste an aspect of truth within a moment; theatre is a machine for climbing and descending the scales of meaning…Theatre is an external ally of the spiritual way, and it exists to offer glimpses, inevitably of short duration, of an invisible world that interpenetrates the daily world and is normally ignored by our senses.’