from Play Ten - introducing his plays - James Saunders (1977)"I was driving my car once, and feeling bored, and tried imagining that the car was stationary and the countryside was moving, the road rolling backwards under the wheels like a Test-Your-Driving-Skill machine in an amusement arcade. I noticed that the further I depressed the accelerator pedal, the faster everything whizzed back past me; and if I gave the wheel a right-hand turn the road turned to the left. I felt my co-ordination going. And yet, assuming I was travelling from East to West, with the earth turning from West to East... Still, no point in causing an accident; I gave up the experiment and went back to assuming, like any normal person, that I was moving and the Earth stood still.
In order to drive comfortably through our little space and time (or is it time that's moving in the opposite direction?) without too many accidents, we take a lot of things for granted, leave a lot of questions unanswered, or unasked. If you ask a machine operator: 'What makes that there wheel go round?' he might say: 'Me pushing this here green button' - a fair enough answer if you just want to operate the machine, but not much use for knowing what it's all about. Most of the questions we ask are operator's questions, and the answers we accept are operator's answers.
Q: What happens to me when I die?
A: You get shoved into the ground.
That's true (unless you are cremated) and sufficient for practical purposes. But if people get to thinking it's a complete answer rather than just an operating instruction, they need to take a holiday from operating their lives and have a good, long, quiet think.
One place to take a holiday is into Art. Art is the region of experience where, because it's not involved in the machinery of living, strange questions can be asked and strange answers given. Van Gogh answered the question 'What does a sunflower look like?' - but not by taking a photograph. And his answer can't be verbalised, only seen in the painting. Art is non-verbal, in a world which is becoming more and more verbal. (We even now have cold wars, which are verbal wars.) Theatre is non-verbal; it uses words, as painters use paint, but what it tries to get at is underneath the words, underneath the logical exposition. Art is a rebellion against the tyranny of life as a mechanical operation. It calls into question the accepted views of the world. This is why despotic regimes and despotic individuals try to censor it. And yet, in fact, Art has no temporal power - no guns, no economic weapons. Theatre is a playspace where you can ask silly or serious questions about life, death, time, space, freedom and compulsion, what it is see and hear, what words really are... It cannot do harm, unless experience is harm. Never trust censors."
published by Edward Arnold (London, England), 1977
(Play Ten - Ten short plays - edited by Robin Rook)
ISBN 0 7131 0156 3 BL Ref No 822 9 1408 PR1272
includes What Theatre Really Is + Over the Wall