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Theatre (Reprise): Why does Theatre Still Matter?

Editor's Note: This article was originally written for Strand's 2023 Spring printed edition, based on the theme of 'New Beginnings'. The essay was written upon the revival of Strand's previously dormant Theatre section, yet it remains relevant to my ongoing effort as editor to test the boundaries of what 'Theatre' constitutes at Strand Magazine, and beyond.

The set of 'Orlando' at the Garrick Theatre.

The curtains have been closed on Strand Magazine’s Theatre section for far too long. The audience have gotten restless — in fact, I fear some might have left. But there’s a revival on the horizon, and you’re not going to want to miss the second act.


Theatre itself could not be a more apt topic for this revival, as theatre by nature is a site of constant new beginnings. We see this through the reprisal motifs of many beloved musicals, in the diverse scope of adaptations that emerge from single play texts, and even within the cycle from Act 1 through to the Final Bow that repeats every night. Flexible and unfixed, theatre is a space of constant restarts.


The beauty of live theatre is that, like in our ordinary lives, the performances change each day. With every evening, a slight change of tone in an actor’s voice may give a show new meaning or reshape a crucial line. On any day of a theatre run, the actors, crew, and musicians must hear their 5-minute call, take a deep breath, and begin their familiar performance routine once again. It is at once a dichotomy of repetition and evolution, and therein lies the rare magic of live theatre over other mediums. Films are captured and books are constant; once shown, they bear a stagnancy that theatre transcends. There can be no reruns, and no one can pause or edit those four unwalled borders of the stage.

Perhaps that is why theatre persists amid a rapid landscape of film, TV and social media; its flame may flicker smaller but what it presents is human experience in the most ironically organic way. The staging of a play is perhaps the most logical staging of self, one far more comprehensible than the autopilot we all perform within 'reality', and yet each performance is subject to change. No two live performances are the same just as no real conversation can be a carbon copy. Theatre continues to grip our hearts and push our comfort zones because we can see flesh in front of us; the performers ‘acting’ like us are our own size, they falter their words and stomp as they walk. It presents an emotional, raw mundanity that the intense editing of a film could never allow. 

The cast, and audience, of Jamie Lloyd's 'Sunset Boulevard' at The Savoy Theatre.

This is especially true when we consider the impact of West End understudies for the survival of the theatre industry in a post-covid era. In 2021, a video of Hugh Jackman went viral for his heart-warming appraisal of swing member Kathy Voytko. Voytko had taken on the leading role of Marian in The Music Man at a mere few hours’ notice, despite never having performed the role onstage before. Hugh Jackman rightly praised the swings as the ‘bedrock of Broadway’, just as the supremely talented ensembles and swings of London’s theatre scene kept the industry afloat with their remarkable versatility during the pandemic. Each night, the shape of a cast took on a new form, and a new show was created from what could have been the ashes of an evening.


Part of the essence of theatre is subsequently its limits. Some of the same limits that restricted actors in Shakespeare’s time still hinder productions today. This speaks to a universality of human experience, even when the themes discussed are acutely specific or marginalised. Theatre in grass-root community settings thus becomes an ideal space for marginalised voices to find new power, with initiatives such as Cardboard Citizens producing performances with actors and crew who have currently or previously experienced homelessness. A short visit to their website shows how their work has brought new beginnings to people who have been neglected by the UK’s legal system. The stories from those who have been involved in Cardboard Citizens’ projects demonstrate how the creative opportunity to channel oneself through theatre has allowed for outlets of escapism, growing confidence, and simply human ‘fun’ for those who have been socio-politically knocked down. Theatre can create space for new communities to be built. Therefore, when we talk of theatre, what do we refer to: a stage? An escape? Theatre has the power to be much more, for the reinvention of self and of community.


Instead of Shakespeare on a stage, theatre may be the story you were told as a child, the festival from your hometown, or it may even be the performance of identity that you carry out every day. When you get dressed in the morning, hold open a door for someone, or debate putting 'Kind Regards' or 'Best Wishes' at the end of an email, maybe you will begin to consider what cultural scripts you are engaging with as you do so. Across history and cultures, theatre and performance have been intrinsically concerned with far more than the borders of a stage; to experience theatre is to do more than sit in a cramped red velvet chair.


It therefore feels unjust writing wholly about the rebirth of a topic that never died. Every art craft, from the debate around Oscar nominees to an iconic musician’s persona on stage, is an ode to the art of theatre. Even love, friendship and work can become discussions of social performance, and every plate of food is a tabletop stage in its own right. It takes only a glance around us to see that we, as socio-contextual beings, are constantly performing. Theatre’s versatility and interconnectedness with lived human experience means it will constantly re-emerge regardless of its form. As the phoenix of the art forms, 'Theatre' is always being reborn.


Written, edited, and photos by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.


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