Theatre World Thinks SF Is Too Dated

Illustration for article titled Theatre World Thinks SF Is Too Dated

Of course, it's a question that all of us spend endless hours silently pondering, but now British theatre critic Andrew Haydon asks aloud: "Why isn't there more science fiction on the stage?" His answer suggests that those who spend their time creating stage plays may be slightly too blinded by their desire to be contemporary. Or, perhaps, that science fiction as a genre is just behind the times.


Haydon writes:

At the National Student Drama Festival there came a piece called When You Cry in Space Your Tears Go Everywhere, made by a group of recent graduates of Dartington College called Tinned Fingers. It absolutely captured the zeitgeist around my generation's relationship to science fiction. At the start of the piece - a lovely, lo-fi, make-a-virtue-of-liveness performance constructed around childhood ideas of heroism and exploration - one of the performers reading out a list of thoughts and descriptions suddenly offers the gem: "space is a bit 70s".

It's a great line, primarily because it is so accurate. It seamlessly pinpoints a whole feeling that can be summed up by the T-shirt slogan "This Was Supposed to Be the Future" - the idea that we have now passed all the major dates that, when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s, signified the future: Space 1999, 2000AD, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Rarely have I heard a collective penny drop so loudly in an audience.

Perhaps this is part of the reason that sci-fi so rarely makes it onto the stage. As well as being regarded with a certain warmth, there's also a sense of mistrust around the genre. Writers fear that it's somehow a bit uncool - a bit 70s - and so we get interminable plays about Urgent Contemporary Issues rather than coolly speculative projections.


Haydon does go on to point out that science fiction has come up with some of the greatest literature of the 20th century, and that younger generations of theatre folk may not have the same prejudices as the current crop, but nonetheless - Someone, quickly: Write a play called 3000AD and you'll make a killing.

Is theatre sci-fi's final frontier? [Guardian Unlimited]

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Chris Braak

@NefariousNewt: Well, it's true. And the big-budget science fiction that works in novels and movies just doesn't work onstage. Broadway's in decline because revivals and Disney movies are the only things that actually make the enormous amount of money necessary to bring it in.

Plus, I think sci-fi actually relies heavily on verisimilitude which theatre, in practice, doesn't. One of theatre's advantages is that it is easily suited to abstraction, which obviates the need for science-fiction.

If, for example, you want to make a play in which everyone is being watched, you don't really need to explain why or how it happens in the theatre.