Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Jeremy Paxman interviews Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May as Genre Theatre

In the post-modern era, it's difficult to identify a production within a particular genre. Jeremy Paxman interviews Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May has many of the ingredients of a neoclassical tragedy - the three central characters, reminiscent of Sophocles, plenty of hubris, a chorus of citizens and a dramatic peripeteia - but draws on Victorian melodrama, the bourgeois drama of the enlightenment and, in the character of Paxman, revenge tragedy. 

Jeremy Paxman emerges across the performance as the protagonist: confronted by two politicians, his increasingly hysterical questions reveal a man determined to get at a truth he barely believes exists. 

Recalling the conversion of Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi, when the villain is converted to
Touche Turtle and Harvey Keitel
virtue and goes on a killing spree, Paxman embodies the contradictions of a contemporary media that longs for honesty but can never accept it. 

His twin antagonists, meanwhile, appear to have strolled in from different scripts. Corbyn - smartly attired in suit and tie, evoking both a  liberal businessman and kindly uncle -  insists on a Brechtian dismantling of his party's manifesto, pointing out how the policies were developed. May, meanwhile, harnesses the spirit of Aeschylus' Clytemnestra, playing up the fear - and frisson - of a difficult woman holding political power.

Set on a sparse staging - the large table that separates the antagonists from Paxman evokes an alienating hygiene, all black and polished - Jeremy Paxman... struggles to find a consistent narrative. Leaping between subjects, Paxman's aggression frequently descends into child-like abjection - notably when he reminds May that 'it was your job' to sort out immigration. 

His approach to Corbyn loses much of the sympathy a tragic hero might expect: repeatedly interrupting, it is as if Diderot's advice to playwrights not to attempt an elevated tone has
been adapted for a Platonic dialogue. Sadly, this leaves the production as less a play of ideas that a theatrical version of noise music, in which the conversation denies coherence for a more visceral impact. 

Albert Steptoe scrubs up well
There are elements of Artaud's theatre of cruelty - the appearance of an audience member mouthing 'bollocks' recalls the irritation caused by the RSC's Theatre of Cruelty season or even the Futurist's cabaret nights in pre-WWI France. 

Yet at the heart of this debate, it's Samuel Beckett who has the most influence. For all the verbal dexterity and high-flown ideals in the script, it's the format itself that reveals the absurdity of the contest.

Televised - therefore, following Gil Scott Heron, not a revolution - and giving equal time and weight to both antagonists, there is no climax, no resolution, and nothing has changed. It's a tragedy of sorts, but it's not even a well-made play. 

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