Mind Your Language!


A possible solution for the next read through of Mark Ravenhills?

This musing has been mulling over in my mind these last few weeks. On leaving The Acid Test the other week, one of the other audience members commented that they enjoyed the play but wished the characters had not sworn so much (personally I didn’t really notice the swearing). In last week’s The Stage, Ian Herbert in his column wrote an excellent piece on the over use of swearing in British plays. He also related how the American students thought that the worse swear word to be used on the English stage was “God”. (they were from the Bible belt of the US though)

Now I’m no prude, and the F and C word are a part of my vocabulary, and I’ve no desire to see others told how they should speak. However British playwriting does seem to be rather free with its use of expletives. This is sometimes necessary but as Ian Herbert rightly points out, the use of language to cause a frisson or dramatic moment is lost in a play where every other word is an expletive.

The current production of The Cherry Orchard on at the National is a case in point. Several critics have complained about the two swear words in it, but I thought they were an excellent dramatic device, totally in keeping with the character who said them and the fact that he was extremely peeved on each occasion.

Many will argue that the use of swear words is simply a reflection of real life, but I’m aware of a great number of people who simply don’t swear. From all walks of life too.

As I’ve said before British Theatre has grown up since its “In Yer Face” period in the 90’s and modern dramatists seem to realise that swearing can have other dramatic effects than just shock, but I am surprised how much “fruity” language is still used in a manner that is over the top. There will be some that say this is irrelevant, but I can assure you that it alienates a large number of theatre goers, and even to avid theatre goers like myself, I do feel a certain frustration when all I read or see in a play is lots of swearing, when I can see no real reason for it.

The clip below contains swearing: but I think it’s applicable (and funny!)



6 thoughts on “Mind Your Language!

  1. Apparently there were compaints about unnecessary swearing in “Heroes” – personally I thought the balance was just right – occasional use of an expletive where it probably would occur naturally (e.g. “and you limp like a bastard”), but not gratuitously.

    It’s hard to know where to put the line.

  2. Hi Alister,

    I didn’re recall Heroes having any bad language! As you say, it was what would have been said, rather than gratuitous. It is hard to know where to draw the line sometimes!

    • Well, from memory, “It’s a bugger”, “A blanket to keep your arses dry”, “You limp like a bastard” and “Two of you are barking, and one of you is petrified, so why don’t all go and fuck yourselves” was about it. Hardly a stream of expletives.

  3. The only play I ever walked out on was full of swearing. So much so that I lost track of the real dialogue. Cant remember the name but it was at The Warehouse in east Croydon. It must have been bad as my rugby playing beer swilling husband was offended by it too!

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