Feel-good theatre

Gemma Sheehan 5 November 2016

How do we choose which shows we go to? More particularly, how do we choose in Cambridge, where the wealth of productions coupled with incredibly hectic schedules can make many feel more stressed than relaxed at the prospect of ‘losing’ two hours to a performance?

As I sat watching Sam Fulton’s three hour long outside performance of King Lear, the idea of theatre-going as an enjoyable hobby played closely on my mind. Having the day before gone to see a very short, zippy comedy, the contrast between the two could not have been more apparent. And yet although I was incredibly behind with my essay and chilled to the bone by the end of the performance, I walked away at the end in a better mental state than when I had first arrived. Despite being a tragedy, the play’s musing on immortal themes offered a kind of catharsis it might initially be hard to imagine.

It is theatre’s offer of a distraction from the ‘Cambridge bubble’ that is its best feature as a relaxing hobby, and perhaps explains why even something as bleak as Shakespearian tragedy can be comforting. Unlike hobbies such as reading or watching TV, the communal nature of theatre is something I think is incredibly important in Cambridge in particular, where a sense of isolation is all too easy to fall into. Everybody needs a break, but a break watching the fruits of other students’ hard labour not only fosters a sense of university community but also by its very nature gives the impression of being a social activity.

And yet, what is so great about this social element is that it still offers an escape from the stress of Cambridge life. When watching a performance, be it a comedy sketch show, a lengthy Shakespearian production, or an experimental piece at the Corpus Playroom, the immersive nature of theatre makes it virtually impossible to continue worrying about work or other problems. Much like the mid-week urge for a ‘cheeky Cindies’ when stuck in a particular work rut, theatre can offer you a proper break – but without the lack of sleep and hangover that accompany a night out.  

Of course, theatre is more than just as relaxation. Many productions staged in Cambridge are intended to provoke, or deal with difficult themes that could be upsetting to someone in need of something soothing for the nerves. But even this strong focus on the intellectual benefits of theatre and the provocative achievements of plays, there is still space to consider theatre-going as something just for pleasure. The two ways of thinking can and do co-exist, but in Cambridge in particular it feels like the idea of just going to watch a show for fun is one that is not embraced often enough. So next time you’re looking for a break from work, try hunting out what’s on at the ADC or Corpus – you might find yourself embracing theatre-going as a hobby too.