Saturday, April 16, 2005

Short shrift

Michael Billington in The Guardian ponders the shortening running times of new plays and if this is having a detremental effect on quality simply because there is so much of a subject to fit into so little space that there isn't enough time to develop some ideas. As always he's generally right, although I am of the generation with a lower attention span. Interestingly he invokes a quote about Hamlet as a way of demonstrating how times have changed:
You can't, of course, simply re-create old forms: as Alain Robbe-Grillet shrewdly pointed out, Hamlet would not be a masterpiece if it were written today since we do not live in the age of the five-act tragedy. But the new, slavish obeisance to the 90-minute rule stems, I suspect, from a mixture of fashion and ignorance; in particular, a shocking unawareness of even the recent past when drama moved beyond a single situation or point of crisis to examine causes as well as effects.
That is a feature which I've seen drift away in modern theatre -- multiple settings. Some of the award winning recent plays, for example, Joe Egg have thrived in a single setting. But this has the effect of creating the feeling of sitcom. One of the reasons Hamlet feels epic is because of the sheer number and variety of scene changes.

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