Why theatre should make us uncomfortable

Shouldn’t a night at the theatre be all about enjoyment and entertainment? Why should we go and see theatre that challenges us, that is uncomfortable to watch?

Greg Wohead - The Ted Bundy Project (image credit Rod Farry)

For the same reason that we love scary films or roller coasters. They make us feel. They are physical experiences, they are visceral, they pull on deep fundamental human feelings. We enjoy experiences that wake us up, make us react, remind us that we are alive. If living is a series of experiences, good and bad, transitory and fundamental, it is the strong experiences that stay with us,  rather than the fleeting, short-lived ones.

Theatre is inherently about the human condition. As with all live performance, the human being is inevitably present, and so lends a layer of meaning. We see ourselves reflected back in the people in front of us. As writer Lakeisha reminds us in her recent article, theatre is about communicating something to an audience, and that audience is a group of human beings who share the same fears, concerns, needs and dreams in life.

So theatre often ends up exploring the nature of what it means to be human, what motivates us, makes us cry, laugh, squirm, and it often asks difficult questions. it raises issues that feel challenging, asking those questions and raising those issues through live performance, with a direct connection to the audience, makes them all the more uncomfortable, and all the more visceral.

Two theatre shows coming up at South Street Arts Centre do exactly this. Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation explores the beliefs we hold, the politically correct and incorrect, the controversial and the uncomfortable. There is no fourth wall in this show, it is a direct engagement with its audience and it asks them difficult questions outright, without hiding, without skirting around the edges of something tricky. It demands that we question ourselves, and what we believe, or rather, what we think we believe.

Greg Wohead’s piece The Ted Bundy Project is equally challenging, but for very different reasons. It forces us to come face to face with the extremes of human capability. Ted Bundy was a rapist, murderer and necrophile, the ultimate portrait of what we would consider a ‘monster’. Hearing Ted Bundy talk on his confession tapes, it is both repellent and utterly compelling. Just as a horror film might make us want to hide our eyes, there’s something somewhere deep inside us that is fascinated at the same time.

As Chris Thorpe’s piece expresses, we mustn’t shy away from the difficult conversations, or the darker side of human nature, it is all part of the life and the world around us. We must walk bravely towards it, in order to experience something truly engaging. This is theatre you can feel, it stays with you. It is a lasting experience, not a fleeting laugh or a forgettable entertainment. This is theatre that resonates with the very core of what it means to be human. It may even change you a little. Be brave, it’ll be worth it.


Confirmation by Chris Thorpe is on at South Street Arts Centre on Saturday 25th April and The Ted Bundy Project by Greg Wohead is on Thursday 14th May