How integral should an interval be?
Annie Baker’s new play The Aliens, directed by Peter Gill, is an easy watch – a little too easy. It’s a reasonable night out, but probably not a memorable one. The play runs at an hour and a half and, somewhat surprisingly, has a fifteen minute interval.
For a play which tries very hard to seem cool, it struck me as odd that it should be so keen to pause half way through. I don’t know whether this is something I’ve imagined, but it seems to me that fewer shows are going in for intervals these days. Perhaps it will prove to be a fad, but an interval would seem to be unnecessary unless really required by a show’s length. In Shakespeare plays and other classics we expect an interval – it’s part of the experience. But when the subject matter is considerably less substantial, an interval can be clunky and annoying.
The interval in The Aliens made me wonder whether an over-reliance on a mid-way break is a sign of bad writing. In terms of plot, the interval was key: the scenario in parts one and two is exactly the same, except that one of the three characters, Jasper, is absent. With no substantial emotional change in KJ and Evan (the other two characters) and with the set exactly the same, the interval was the only way to convey a sense of time having passed, a time in which Jasper might conceivably have died. If The Aliens had been written as a through-played piece, Jasper’s dramatic absence would have had very little credibility. As it is, we notice his absence, but we don’t really care.
The Aliens is a short, light piece of theatre, made less emotionally gruelling by the break we’re given in the middle. As a through-played piece, it might make us feel more like we’ve endured something – in a positive sense. Instead, it plays with that unknown quantity, the interval, during which anything can happen. It was a risky writing decision, and one that didn’t pay off.
The Bush Theatre
This was my first and long overdue visit to The Bush. The theatre has something of a cult status and, for a small fringe theatre, is very well-known. It’s attached to an O’Neills, and the theatre itself is very modestly sized. It’s a space that suggests versatility, but the history this theatre has built up would seem to be more attractive than the physical place itself.