British theatre maker Andy Field channels some Artaud in the Guardian, singing the praises of a recent performance he saw of, basically, daredevil theatre.
At our venue in Edinburgh this year, the Bristol-based company Action Hero previewed their new show, Watch Me Fall. Simply put, this is a show about daredevils. The audience gather around a runway strip marked out on the floor of the theatre, a small ramp placed ominously in its centre. Towards the show's climax, one performer rides a tiny red bike up and over the jump as fast as he can. As the audience roar their support, he hangs for a brief moment suspended in the air… before crashing down and skidding into the wall with a sickening thump. In the long pause before the show continues, he lies there in a crumpled heap, the whole space agonisingly silent but for the sound of his breathing.Okay, I agree Actors Equity is right to police such practices. But the extremity of Field's example usefully illustrates his compelling larger point:
Risk can be a uniquely engaging part of a theatre show. It's rare to be in the presence of a moment of such live and genuine unpredictability, of something that could have such lasting consequences. Theatre is, after all play, and play is always at its most riveting when its fictional framework is being tested, when someone's taking it too far, when it's just about to all end in tears. It always has the potential to break free and cause havoc in the real world.
For me, the most exciting moments in theatre have often been those moments where the space between the real and imaginary begins to break down. You realise that theatre can do more than just comment on or reflect the real world, that it is not happening in an empty space but a real one and is always, in small ways, changing it. Few things make that more apparent than the awareness of how badly things could go wrong.
Could one reason theatre attendance has fallen off with the younger generations be the total lack of any risk, or even surprise? Even a good concert can provide that. And it's why Cirque de Soleil continues to be the highest grossing live entertainment in the world.