Monday 24 June 2013

Theatrical nudity

In tiny font on a flier for a new play at a local theatre is the warning - Contains mild nudity.

Mild nudity?

I asked a friend."Bums" she replied, wearily. 

I suppose the warning - previously confined to loud noises and strobe lighting - derives from those little labels on CD cases that say things like Features mild comedy peril or Contains sexually explicit images or (and this is a favourite) Contains language.

A few months ago I went to see a new production of Chekhov's The Seagull at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton. Outside the auditorium was a note, erratically capitalised, warning audiences that: 

This Production contains Haze effects, Strong language, smoking, Nudity and gunshots.

How's that for a spoiler? An audience expecting nudity will not, one assumes, be surprised or offended by it - so why do it? By which I mean two things - why include nudity in Chekov in the first place and, if it's included, why tell the audience in advance? The nudity (or Nudity) in this Seagull was a single female breast, briefly exposed and only fully visible from the first three rows of the stalls. A single breast is not 'bums', admittedly, so it counts as Nudity rather than mild nudity. The much-anticipated smoking predictably set off a barrage of bronchitic coughing in an audience that was in any case prone to hack and splutter noisily and phlegmily throughout the entire performance. The gunshots were noisy but again expected; the Haze effects were simply haze effects (prompting another burst of hacking and wheezing) while the Strong language wasn't Strong so much as averagely coarse and, in a Chekovian context, both annoying and distracting. The cigarette moments failed to convince because actors have lost the art of smoking, just as they appear to have forgotten how to eat a stage meal.

Speaking of nudity - do any of my readers remember that byword for permissiveness Oh! Calcutta? A theatrical review devised by Kenneth Tynan which featured, as an opener and until the author withdrew permission for its use, Samuel Beckett's short play Breath? The production was full of nude cavortings. The title was taken from the French phrase meaning "Oh What an arse you've got", which reminds me that the catch-phrase of the camp comedian Larry Grayson - "Shut that door!" - was based on his attempts to pronounce "Je t'adore". But I digress.

Getting back to theatrical health and safety warnings - I do see why the use of strobe lighting effects should be flagged up to protect the epileptic. Not that one sees them much any more. Strobe lighting effects I mean, not epileptics. But I'm annoyed by the tendency, no doubt driven by the desire to pre-empt complaints by affronted ticket-holders, to give away elements of the play. What next? This production features a ghost, stabbing, madness, suicide and flights of angels?

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