Theatre: Should it educate or entertain?

Throughout my experience I have seen some extraordinary pieces of theatre. Some performances have resonated with me because of the message that they have emulated and some plays that I have seen, I remember because of their entertainment value.  

This led to me thinking about the true purpose of theatre, that being is it simply for entertainment or should it have a message to convey to the audience or can it be both?

A political tone

I have had 3 years experience of reviewing theatre and in that, I have noticed that a lot of the performances have centred on political issues that have been pertinent to the time of the play.

Recently I had seen an Edinburgh Fringe preview called Going Viral that was about the spreading of the “weeping” disease and how people reacted to it. Feeling more like a science lesson rather than a performance, I had found it interesting to learn so much about this disease. I appreciated learning something new through theatre and to this day I still remember the story of how the disease spread, but I wonder if the story was told differently and used more theatrical methods to entertain rather than inform, would have I remembered the key facts?

I guess you could argue that everybody has a different opinion of what they class as entertainment. But I regularly enjoy the Mixtape (who are also going to the Fringe this year) shows that appear in the theatre land of the North East.

Mixtape is an interactive music quiz with a twist. The actors choose a theme for example Boy Bands Vs Girl Bands, the actors use only the lyrics (in any order they wish) from the proffered tracks to form the basis of the scripts, then audiences have to guess what track it is. The show is one huge barrel of laughs from watching the sketch to then trying to desperately guess what it is, the show brings people together and it doesn’t matter if you get the quiz answers right or wrong, it is more about taking part and enjoying watching the mixtapers.

This show has no message that they are trying to tell us (apart from that I may not know my Westlife from my Boyzone). It is simply an entertaining show and if I have been entertained then I believe the show has fit its purpose.

A clever part of life

But there are shows out there that can be both, that is educational and entertaining take Billy Elliot, being from the North East this play/musical is close to my heart. Written by Lee Hall, although it is about a little boy who just wants to dance, the musical is centred on the time of the miners’ strike in 1984/85. Quite an important piece of history for not only the North East but for the mining industry as a whole and Hall in my opinion doesn’t mince around the issue or glam it up to be some measly little issue.

And for theatre to educate people in history or an important issue that is affecting our lifestyles in a way that is entertaining that will resonate with us is rather clever.

What do you think? What should the role of the theatre be? Have your say in the comments section below.