Mattia Mariotti has brought two productions to the stage in St Andrews: Caligula and The Physicists. He is currently heading his new radio-show Holy Guacamole for STAR Radio, in which he interviews individuals from a wide array of religious doctrines. Here he offers his own musings on the value of the surreal within theatre, art, and life.




I am no prophet. The last prophecy I read was trying to persuade me that the writer was somehow an alien and that on December 21st 2012 rays from Hunab Ku, the Galactic Butterfly, would reach the Earth, transforming some of us into aliens too. Or something along those lines. I may be inaccurate in my retelling. Actually, an explanation from an expert on Mayan history, or even a Mayan, would be sincerely appreciated.


You may very legitimately wonder why I was reading such a book, and I have to admit, that is a wonder of mine too. But this wonder, it goes without saying, seems slightly unrelated to the topic of this article and should probably remain where it is. For I have been told to write about the value of fantastical in theatre. And this, you might well agree, sounds a far more appealing  subject than the 2012 apocalypse. Especially in 2013.


So what is the value of fantastical in theatre? Well, good question. I don’t really know. In fact, what’s the point of having a barking winged whale, and seven jumping Korean children dressed as nuns crying: “The uncle is a lobster, the lobster is Wagner. Oh let’s bamboozle the yaguarondi, let’s bamboozle  every Lefebvrian!” (possibly in Korean) or the aforementioned prophet, a surreal individual in his essence, on a stage? One could reply “And what’s the point of life?”, and that would be already a pretty good reply, probably the best possible.


It is likely that with respect to the specific examples above of whales, Korean children and the prophet, a more accurate answer to the question would probably be “none”.  However, if there is a bit of a point in life, I think there can well be a point in something quite similar to the stuff above; namely: the fantastical. Be it in theatre, outside theatre, in churches, casinos, candy-shops, schools, in Aldi, in the streets, under the streets -anywhere.


The fantastical happens to be the most beautiful thing we have in this little world. This is not because reality is necessarily ugly, or because there is anything intrinsically pleasant in transgressing the laws of a step-motherly Nature (maybe there is, but it’s  a thing unknown to me). In fact, reality is, first and foremost, a source the surreal.  Many masterpieces of grotesqueness may be found in Market Street, even if they rarely last more than three seconds. But the Beautiful (I will even trouble you to capitalise the word, possibly without troubling Plato as well, who rests in peace, amen) is such a harlot that it doesn’t fit within the boundaries of reality, poor thing, as an orderly scheme of things that make immediate sense, that are more or less what they look like in their familiar guise, as we’ve always seen them. Beauty is a harlot, yes, but, luckily or unfortunately, it is not the harlot of our social laws of appropriateness, our Grecian implicature and our will to master the world rationally.


I might have forgotten theatre. Years could be spent talking about the specific link between the two, fantastical and theatre, but you would probably object that there are better things to do in one’s life as well. I agree. So three seconds will suffice. I will only say that the main differences between a stage and Aldi’s aisles, apart from obvious ones, are, in a nutshell, that in the former, unlike in the latter, what happens can be, more or less, planned, and that in the former, unlike in the latter, everybody will be looking at it without being distracted by the price of the bacon. Or at least one hopes so. The three seconds are already finished, but that is why you might think that beauty and the fantastical tend to be more regularly present  in theatre than in Aldi. Whether this is actually the case is another tough question.


 Mattia Mariotti


Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons