Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Verse Drama Dead?

Becket, pictured in a stained glass window at Canterbury Cathedral
We hear occasionally of new verse dramas being produced on radio or on the stage but never with any great trumpeting along the lines of 'Verse drama is back!'

Many of us would think of T.S. Eliot's 'Murder in the Cathedral' as one of the last critically acclaimed verse dramas; not exactly a recent work though, is it? Verse drama simply isn't popular. It makes people uncomfortable.

Speaking verse? As a character in a play? The concept itself sounds old-fashioned and highfalutin. As though the playwright is a little too big for his/her costume drama boots. None of us are Shakespeare or Racine, after all.

So although verse drama is still being written, it tends to be sidelined whenever it resurfaces in public - nothing of any real importance, pleasantly arty and worthwhile, perhaps, but not to be lingered over by the critics.

Can we shake off that 'worthy but dull' image of the verse drama? How do we turn around the predictable 'lovely but I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole' reaction of so many producers and publishers?

Is the effort worth making, or is verse drama irretrievably dead?

11 comments:

BarbaraS said...

It would have to be really modern to catch anyone's attention. Sounds like you're thinking of doing one?!?

Michael McKimm said...

Hi Jane,

Doesn't really answer any of your questions, but you might be interested in the work of my friend Alex Williams. He writes excellent verse dramas - mostly versions of classical texts. There is a review of his latest, Thyestes, here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2008/jul/04/theatre.reviews

Jane Holland said...

I've always been interested in verse drama. But no plans as yet to write one. Though you never know!

Jx.

Sorlil said...

The only verse drama that springs to mind is Plath's 'Three Women'. I like the fact that its theme and setting is rather prosaic - three woman in a maternity ward. I'd like to see more of that kind of verse drama rather than something high-falutin.

Jane Holland said...

I didn't even know Plath had written any verse drama; great lead for me to follow, thanks for that!

My tastes tend either toward the sparse and monosyllabic, or its complete opposite, the outré and spectacular. So if it wasn't to be an ultra-modern drama, it would have to be something hugely gothic or baroque.

I am planning a play at the moment, but hadn't considered writin it in verse. But it might be worth a try. So few things are ever produced these days, why not do something unexpected and see what happens?

No loss from experimentation, in other words.

Kay said...

There have been some lovely Radio 4 pieces, the one that sticks in my mind was Amanda Dalton's 'Room of Leaves' from 1998, though it's not really verse drama as such. I don't know how you would categorise it in fact!

Bo said...

I've tagged you!
Thanks again for what i emailed you about. Very touched. Would you mind if I reviewed it? xx

Ms Baroque said...

Glyn Maxwell has written at least one play in verse: The Sugar Mile. I reviewed it when it came out; I liked it.

Jane Holland said...

Gosh, I've been tagged!

Of course I don't mind if you review it, Bo. If it all goes horribly wrong, and you find little of worth, I shall politely look the other way. I can only write what I write, if you see what I mean.

Jx

Jane Holland said...

I gad that Glyn Maxwell in the back of my cab once ...

No, seriously, I did see Glyn Maxwell last week over lunch in the Writers' Room at Warwick - you remember that place, Ms B, doncha?

I shared with him the important information that his poem Helene and Heloise (featured in the 1993 New Poetry anthology) was a big influence on me at the time. Worth finding and reading if you don't already know it.

Didn't know he'd written a verse play though. Well, blows me hat off.

Jane Holland said...

Oops. I HAD that GM in the back of my cab etc.

All these typos ... good gad!