I’m sick of bleak theatre. Let’s have theatre of hope

Convener(s): Tom Wright

Participants: Mhairi Grewlis (I’m sure I got that wrong – sorry!) Nicola Stanhipe, Rose Biggin, Eve Leigh, Sian Rees, David Cottis, Tom Brocklehurst and a hive worth of bumblebees.


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

So, on Sat night I saw a 110min straight through show. The performances were amazingly committed and the writing was lush and dense, but five minutes in I knew that it would bleak; nothing good would happen to these characters and there was no chink of hope. All that skill and effort was aiming to make me depressed. I need no help to get depressed; I can do that sitting in a dark room on my own for a bit. If I really need help I can turn on the news for five minutes. What I need help with is generating hope, feeling up-lifted and inspired. Yet this show had dozens of five star reviews and was sold out.


Throwing it open the floor, I was persuaded to reveal the show; Pitchfork Disney. I was roundly told that the script was brilliant and hilarious. My bad! We drilled further in: 

Mel Brooks: ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.’

Me: Comedy is when horrible things happen and you laugh, but at the end everything is resolved. I like this. (Can, like musical, be like a happy meal – sugary/fatty fun on the way in but lets you crash.)

Tragedy is when horrible things, but they are not inevitable, you sit going ‘no, don’t do that!’ then you end up crying, and come out purged. I like this too.

For both to be satisfying they have to have light and dark. Also happy with comedy-tragic and tragic-comedy (funny and ends badly, or sad but ends happy.)

But there’s a new thing were everything starts bleak, no hope, then there’s a grim middle section before a despairing ending. Ugh. Seems to be very popular with reviewers and audiences – feels very serious and we like to talk about serious.


(Digression on academia – is it okay to talk about emotional response in academia? Some different views on this.)


Site recommendation: Taste (haven’t found URL yet?) which sorts reviews by feeling it engenders not genre or stars. Sounds great!

General feeling; I’m picking my tickets really poorly! Everyone else seems to be seeing inspiring stuff from time to time.


Other ways at looking at the issue: 

Cynicism vs. what? Idealism? Romanticism?

Or in fact, since drama reflects life which is hard, but not unending horror, all drama should have light and shade. Unremittingly bleak is therefore just bad, as would be unremittingly chirpy. Question of quality not emotional choice. 

Is it to do with process – might writers, on there own, get more bleak than devisers bouncing off each other? 

Ayckbourn, Chekhov, Beckett – funny but bleak as about people stuck, unable to change. Do we laugh at them, feeling smug, because we believe that we can change?


Inspiring shows – Big Society, Operation Wingfield, Daniel Kitson.


Maybe one play doesn’t transform you, but like reading a particular newspaper, the constant drip drip of a certain sort of story can have a profound impact.


Key question for an artist: What do you want to achieve?


Lower Class Social Bleakness as Social Tourism – Middle classes get to be relieved that their life is not that bad.


It’s nice to have characters you can care about.


If this world is meaningless maybe we should celebrate those who are making meaning! Very liking this. Might make it into a t-shirt.


Closed with a promise that if TomWrightDirector.com comes up with something which is just bleak you can punch him in the face.

Regretting that a bit now, as lots of people seemed quite keen to hold me to it. Oh well. Promise is a promise. . .


Actions: If anyone knows the address of the emotion review sight, let me know. Also I want to know you’re stories about theatre uplifting/inspiring you in a lasting way: [email protected].