Ask Auntie Trash: What is Love?
More wise words from Auntie Trash. In the month of Valentine's Day, we find out what theatre can teach us about love
What can theatre teach us about love?
Ah, love. If I wasn’t such an embittered theatre critic, I’d know what you were on about. I jest, honestly slightly, mind, because in the immortal words of Foreigner, ‘I Want to Know What Love Is.’ Incidentally, did you know that the lead singer wrote that around the time he was leaving his wife for another woman? What larks! Anyway.
What can theatre teach us about love? Well, I was thinking about the many plays that I’ve seen and read over the years, and I realised that I couldn’t remember one single stage depiction of a happy, functional and stereotypically 'normal' relationship where Everything Works Out Fine. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, I’m sure some fictional theatre couples are happy, or maybe even content, I just can’t think of any.
OK, that’s overly cynical, but hear me out – name one famous play with a couple who encounter no problems in their relationship. Give me the details of a show that doesn’t present some utterly warped version of seduction. And consent? DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED. For example, one of the best-known plays in the world is William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, a tragic love story with starcrossed lovers, warring families, poison, sword fights, it’s every playwright's wet dream. But Romeo and Juliet weren’t adults; they were 15 and 13(ish) respectively. They’re not starcrossed lovers, they’re shitty kids! How did you react when something went wrong when you were that age? You overreacted! Why? Because whatever happened was literally The End of the World As You Knew It to your tiny, still-forming brain. Romeo and Juliet didn’t die for love; they died for DRAMA. Cause of death: emo as fuck.
Going to the theatre is fun and all, but at the heart of every good show, hell, at the thundering heart of every good story, there has to be one thing: conflict. Do you know who said that? Aristotle said that, and from what he left behind, he knew what he was talking about. Read Poetics if you would like to know more about this and the necessity of conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. (Available from all good bookshops, shop local and independent, thank you). Without conflict, you don’t have an engaging, riveting piece of art to get lost in, you just have, well, you have blah.
Blah is beige. Blah is the kind of play you go to help out a sort-of-friend with BIG DREAMS and very little talent. Do you want to spend your time watching a bunch of blah? Hell no! We have very little time on this beautiful, but conflicted planet, so, as we continue the long slide down the razor blade of life, it’s useful to know that this thing we call love is never as it appears to be depicted on stage, on screen, in books, etc.
Love can be wonderful. Love can be Hell. It’s really important to learn to tell the difference and find suitable partners, self worth, and to not look for validation through other people. Love is not manipulation. Love is not someone casting a magic spell on you to gain your admiration or killing people for the want of your hand in marriage. That isn’t love. That’s hella problematic. And you deserve better.
To summarise, theatre shows us what love shouldn’t be, but also, in a way, what it could be, so don’t frame fictional love as the perfect relationship just because you saw it on stage. What are you, 15?