Thursday, 6 October 2016

Stage Directions

Modern guides to play writing recommend brevity in many areas, not least stage directions, favouring the Pinteresque (Pause.)  Dipping into one of my favourite literary studies/commentaries Invisible Forms by Kevin Jackson - a series of essays on paratexts eg.  epigraphs, footnotes, appendices etc. -  I find a chapter on stage directions.  Probably the most famous stage direction comes from The Winter's Tale Act III sc. iii:  Exit, pursued by a bear.  Samuel Beckett in Act Without Words and Breath succeeded in making plays only from stage directions.  

A type of discursive stage direction that is rarely, if ever, encountered nowadays comes from the beginning of J M Barrie's Peter Pan:

The night nursery of the Darling family, which is the scene of our opening Act, is at the top of a rather depressed street in Bloomsbury.  We have a right to place it where we will, and the reason Bloomsbury is chosen is that Mr Roget once lived there.  So did we in days when his Thesaurus was our only companion in London; and we whom he has helped to wend our way through life have always wanted to pay him a little compliment.  The Darlings therefore lived in Bloomsbury ...

My favourite of Jackson's examples comes from Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts (1904-8).  While Hardy in his preface describes it as 'presented to the mind's eye in the likeness of a drama' insisting that it is 'intended simply for mental performance and not for the stage' there apparently have been attempts to stage parts of it.  Admittedly, with modern technology it might be possible to realise the stage direction below, but it would be interesting to see how it is done:

At once, as earlier, a preternatural clearness possesses the atmosphere of the battle-field, in which the scene becomes anatomised and the living masses of humanity transparent.  The controlling Imminent Will appears therein, as a brain-like network of currents and ejections, teaching, interpenetrating, entangling, and thrusting hither and thither the human forms.   

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