(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/25.)
At a recent workshop, as part of the excellent Mousetrap Theatre Projects, the playwright Simon Stephens was talking about the making of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In answer to a question from one of the students, he made the point that the show would never have ended up as it did if he had written stage directions detailing exactly how it should look and sound.
“It makes everyone alert,” said Stephens. “It’s solving those problems – how you get Christopher from Swindon to London – that make the evening what it is. A play script is not a prescription. It’s a starting gesture that may lead to a night in the theatre that forces everyone involved, including the audience, to be at their most imaginative.”
It’s a very far cry from the plays of Ibsen, Shaw or O’Neill that often run to pages of stage directions. Shaw’s stage directions sometimes even stipulate exactly which pictures should be hanging on the wall. But, of course, Shaw’s plays would have been as widely read as they were staged – and stage directions can be helpful to a reader. O’Neill’s are so extensive that, earlier this year, the New York Neo-Futurists premiered their second comedy based entirely upon them with The Complete and Condensed Staged Directions of Eugene O’Neill, Volume 2.