In my conventionalish middle class childhood, I ended up going to the theatre quite a bit: musicals, Gilbert & Sullivan, Shakespeare, the odd ‘modern play’. In truth the only ones that I could hack were some of the G&S and A Man For All Seasons, the latter being a true masterpiece. I know Shakespeare is a genius, but I prefer him in short bites to whole plays. I doubt I’m alone in this.
The real problem is all that exaggerated emoting and the feet clopping on the floorboards with everyone speaking a bit too loudly. From small Fringe productions to big name Hamlet, it’s all grim for me. That’s what cinema was invented to overcome.
So I was delighted to learn that my problem is nothing new. Here is Natasha Rostov at some sort of opera, in War and Peace (book 8, ch 9):
She could not follow the opera nor even listen to the music; she saw only the painted cardboard and the queerly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so pretentiously false and unnatural that she first felt ashamed for the actors and then amused at them. She looked at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same sense of ridicule and perplexity she herself experienced, but they all seemed attentive to what was happening on the stage, and expressed delight which to Natasha seemed feigned. “I suppose it has to be like this!” she thought.
‘delight which seemed feigned’ indeed.
Tolstoy was a great observer, and a great psychologist.