You mentioned the conservative ‘counter-revolution’. What did you make of Margaret Thatcher’s statement that there is no such thing as society?
I would like to think that all plays and all theatre have a refutation of that evil and stupid statement. All one has to do is sit in a theatre, to be an actor on a stage or to work in a theatre and see the way that human beings within a microsecond of the house lights going down coalesce into a society, into a discrete entity that didn’t exist before. People have a great innate genius for communalising, for collectivising. There’s no better illustration that I know of in the world that watching an audience describe its personality almost instantly, enter into a complicated relationship with the thing on stage and develop it along the course of the evening. And then dissolve afterwards but not completely, because what everybody takes from the theatre is not their own individual experience of the play but something that’s been profoundly shaped by that collective beast. The audience and the actor and the play, it’s an instant community. Theatre is an irreducibly communal event, and it’s proof, I think, of what Marx says: that the smallest human unit is not one but two people, that one person is a fiction; there’s never been – and never will be anywhere in time – one person.
You think the theatre is uniquely well equipped to deal with society?
I’ve said this a lot, and it comes from Brecht. Theatre is inherently dialectical because the illusion/reality paradigm is unavoidable in the theatre experience. What is on stage also isn’t. It’s always a transparent illusion; you always have to see double when you’re watching anything on stage; you’re always aware that the dead body is breathing; you’re always aware that the angel is hanging from a wire. The trees always look fake, and there’s a point past which the illusion can’t be carried in the moment on the stage. So people always have to see double, which is critical consciousness, and it teaches you to see dialectically. It teaches you to understand both the manifest appearance of things and also their actual content. Theatre can’t help but be a politically useful art form. Also because it’s a gathering of people, it’s always a sort of platform for the discussion of events. There’s this great thing that Schiller said to Goethe: in a Shakespeare play you don’t feel trapped while the parade moves in front of you. The parade is there and you’re moving around in it, and you have room to turn around. That’s a great thing to strive for in the sense that a whole world is contained in a play.