This paper investigates Snow, a theatre piece written and directed by John Jesurun, which premiered in 2000. The piece has three unique features. The first is its theatrical space. It lacks a conventional auditorium but features a walled central area. The audience first enters the area and then watches the performance from there. This is linked to the second feature: the hiding, if not excluding, of the live performance. The central area is equipped with four screens above each wall, on which the audience watches the performance. Thus, although the actual performances are conducted just outside the walled area, it is not directly presented to the audience. The last feature is the “Virtual Actor.” This is, in fact, a camera, but due to its preset program, it can move as if of its own free will. This camera is not shown on the screens; however, the audience can sense its presence through a set of shots taken from the camera’s viewpoint. This paper derives two main arguments from Snow by focusing on this Virtual Actor. The first is the displacement of the relation between human and machine. The quasi-autonomously operating camera, prompting a revision of the concept of the subject, questions the way in which we have separated the human, as a self-evidently autonomous being, from the machine, which is conceived as a non-autonomous being. Turning from a technical device such as the Virtual Actor to the story of Snow, which depicts the background of the contemporary media industry, we can find a similar question concerning the human-machine boundary. In one episode, people try to utilize “the tone and inflection of [one’s] voice” as material for encryption. In treating allegedly natural elements, such as “tone and inflection,” as a medium for the highly cultural operation of encryption, this episode suggests a cybernetic vision similar to the one discussed by Donna Haraway. In her view, through the reconception of organisms as coded texts, biology transforms into cryptology. We can thereby consider the living organism to be a communication device that has no fundamental difference from a machine.
The piece’s second argument lies in its metafictional inquiry. Narratology is based on the assumption that story space and discourse space are two distinct domains that must not be confused. This assumption, however, is challenged by the Virtual Actor. On the one hand, the Virtual Actor resides in discourse space, as it is a recording device designed for narration. At the same time, it is a character that naturally belongs to story space. The Virtual Actor’s double identity destabilizes the division between these two spaces.
This paper will question the ideal of integration of song, dance, and story in the Broadway musical and re-evaluate the dramatic importance of musical numbers therein by means of an analysis of The Mystery of Edwin Drood (or Drood; first produced 1986), a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel of the same name. The show became a critical and commercial success and won that year’s Tony Award for Best Musical. However, because the adaptation of the novel was conceived as a show-within-a-show in its performance at London’s Music Hall Royale, with the murderer chosen by audience vote, Drood is referred to as “unfaithful” to its source in some reviews.
Moreover, the musical is unfaithful to the ideal of the integrated musical. While integrated musicals aim to unify story, song and dance into a seamless whole, Drood’s performance is repeatedly interrupted. The show stops abruptly in the middle of the musical number “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead,” as it reaches the point where the original story ceases due to the untimely death of its author. This scene suggests that, while reviews and previous studies focus on the narrative of Drood and the conceptual nature of its adaptation, the musical is in fact a story of the actors of the Music Hall Royale and their desire to perform through the interruption, the diversion, and the vote on the murderer and other roles.
In Drood, the songs are not the “servant” of the play, as in integrated musicals. Instead, the performance of musical numbers is the focus of the show. As the character Drood sings, “if you hear my voice, then you’re alive”; and the goal of the actors is to achieve mutual affirmation of their lives through singing. Thus, the musical numbers in Drood bear unique dramatic meaning.
This paper discusses Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls by focusing on the portrayal of Angie, who is regarded by critics as a comparatively minor character. As symbolically exhibited in the confrontational relationship between Marlene and Joyce, a binary opposition functions as the dominant structure of the play. Marlene, one of the leading characters, is bent on boosting her already successful career and espouses Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist policies. Appearing in almost every scene, she seems to be at the heart of the play, and her presence reinforces various dichotomies, such as winner/loser and centre/margin. Her sister Joyce, a working-class single mother, does not accept Marlene’s point of view. However, Angie, who has been raised by Joyce but is actually Marlene’s sixteen-year-old daughter, has the potential to decentralise Marlene’s position and subvert the rigid binary opposition.
First, Angie demonstrates the possibility of fluidising binary relationships at various levels. In Act II scene 2, she and her friend Kit are crammed into a small shelter. Their interdependent relationship is shown through the representation of their bodies, as when Kit shows her menstrual blood to Angie on her finger, and Angie licks it. These representations also symbolize the variable relationship between the inner and outer parts of the body. In that scene, Angie is geographically and socially in the most marginalised position in relation to the centre, London, where Marlene lives. However, Angie decides to visit London because she believes that Marlene is her birth mother. In this manner, Angie is able to break up the rigid relationship between the two.
Second, the unrealistic dinner party in the first scene can be thought of as Angie’s dream, which also overthrows Marlene’s centrality within the play. Although the party is held to celebrate Marlene’s promotion, her position is gradually decentralised as guests talk about their painful experiences in childbirth and separation. The separation between mother and child suggests a strong connection to Angie’s search for her biological mother. During the dinner party, verbal language gradually recedes as the characters’ bodies come to the fore. These processes are symbolically represented by the portrayal of the female pope, Joan, whose vomiting in the final scene evokes the story of her horrible childbirth. These images also imply the plasticity of the relationship between the inner and outer parts of the body, as suggested by Angie’s bodily representation in the shelter scene. Thus, Angie implodes the various boundaries and decentralises Marlene’s position in Top Girls.