I am naturally disinclined to explain what I think a play is about. As I have stated elsewhere I am quite likely to answer any enquiry about the nature of a play with the answer “come and see it, and find out”.
However I have to admit that a little context, a hint about the kind of work an audience can expect, can be a good thing.
Wallace Shawn wrote the Fever back in 1989. It takes the form of a description of an individual’s thoughts and feelings about their relationship to the poor. I have discussed elsewhere my shying away from labels such as ‘Political Theatre’, but others have labeled The Fever as such. I cannot help but think that this is almost certainly because it makes the piece easier to attack. Once the label ‘political’ has been assigned to it a work is open to all sorts of attacks: ‘it is too left wing’, ‘too right wing’, ‘doesn’t speak to this group’, ‘doesn’t speak to that group’, ‘doesn’t address this/that issue’, etc. etc. In reality the piece has been criticised both as little more than “an expression of liberal guilt”, and an overt “criticism of the US in supporting oppressive anti-communist regimes”.
I like to refer to the piece as ‘a play’, and I’m content with the statement that we are staging a piece of ‘theatre’, no more, no less.
The Fever is I believe, about empathy as much as anything. As human beings we have an inbuilt capacity to empathise, which we sometimes exercise, and sometimes consciously fight against. It is this struggle between our natural empathy, and our equally natural self-obsession the forms the heart of The Fever. Empathy, and the actions we might/do undertake in response to feeling that empathy. The play goes further, and extends out from simple questions about how we respond directly to those we feel empathy for, to the much more difficult extension of those responses to those with whom we do not empathise. The work addresses the very human question – how can I live my life, as I would wish to live it, without abusing others, and/or denying their rights to live a full and happy life? The character at the heart of the play is middle-class, but this is only relevant in terms of the choices they can make, as opposed to the choices a person further down the social hierarchy might have. The consequences of posing the plays central question are not always easy to listen to. The question asks that examine our lives in the context of the human race as a whole, which inevitably throws up uncomfortable truths about how we all live our lives. The play shows us how an individual might respond to this question.
The play is a conversation someone is having with them-self as well as us. We may or may not have asked ourselves the questions that are posed, but we certainly cannot fail to recognise them as relevant.
My job as a director has been, and is, to enable the saltpeter ensemble to bring out that which we believe to be the best of this piece. To do justice to Shawn’s work through a collaborative process, provide a funny, moving, thought provoking experience for those that attend the performance.
To see if we have achieved at least some of the goals we set ourselves for this staging, come and see The Fever at the Brighton Festival Fringe.