The Suspension of Disbelief: Why Theatre is Still Relevant

Oh Wanderers, many of you will have experienced the joy of the theatre, and will probably think me silly for even entertaining the following question: Why is theatre still relevant in a world with films and TV programmes? For the rest of you, it might be something you’re wondering.

I can answer this question: It is a test of the suspension of disbelief. Take, for example, War Horse. I saw the stage production at the National Theatre without reading the book, and I haven’t seen the film version. The thing with the stage production of War Horse is that some of the key players are in fact life-size puppets operated from within. These puppets aren’t even made to look like horses; they’re wickerwork – beautiful to behold, but when you first see them you almost can’t see that you will be able to suspend your disbelief to the point of believing that they are horses. But Wanderers, oh Wanderers, you can.

That is the miracle of theatre. You can believe that that girl off Emmerdale is in 1960’s Baltimore. You can believe that the car on wires over the auditorium is flying. You can play pretend and call it culture – and that is why theatre is still relevant.

Theatre also provides something no other form of media does – immediacy and uniqueness. Each performance will only happen once, and it will never be the same. Oh, there may be the same words and the same songs and the same actors, but it will never be performed in exactly the same way again. Each performance is individual and exists outside reality – entering a theatre is like going through the doors of the TARDIS, you never know where or when you’re going to end up. But wherever or whenever it is, it’s immediate – there may be months of rehearsals, but you know that when the show opens you will get the whole story and time for an ice cream in the middle.

Theatre is distinctive within media. Whether it be a monologue (such as Sea Wall), a full-blown musical (such as We Will Rock You) or a more sedate performance (such as War Horse), theatre never fails to attract and enthrall audiences across generations and classes. Where opera was once the realm of the rich, musical theatre and revolutionary script writers have changed the way theatre is viewed by the general public, and it is now a level playing field.

With the advent of reality shows such as How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, Any Dream Will Do, and I’d Do Anything theatre has made a comeback – straight into our living rooms. By putting the public in charge of casting, the West End has opened up an entirely new, interactive aspect to the theatre, and for many this is the first step into accessing theatre on a first-hand basis.

Wanderers, theatre is an immensely valuable form of media, and that there are people who haven’t had the opportunity to suspend all sense of time and disbelief and place makes me incredibly sad. Theatre is something we should never, ever lose.

Hannah Carter (is well overdue a trip to the theatre, now she thinks about it…)

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