In a special piece written for the MTC season of The Effect, playwright Lucy Prebble reflects on the nature of love and the power of art to connect with something deep inside all of us.
This play is probably the best thing I have ever done and the worst thing I have ever done. These contradictions seem to happen more and more as I get older. Or maybe I just notice them more. Things are the same and opposite. The heart has two ventricles. The brain, two differing halves.
We are always in a process of connecting the two, of sloshing blood and electricity between them. We are made to be in cycle – not just, I believe, in the safe prison of our own skin – but outside ourselves too. There is a faddish theory called ‘the extended mind’ which wonders if what you think of as your mind actually extends outside your skull. That may seem uncomfortable to those, like me, who make materialism our god, but it feels right when we think about art. Or love. If you break my heart does it really happen in my chest? Or does the act of breaking happen somewhere between you and I? A foot away from my hand as it goes to my mouth, at the height of your eyeline, just left of the stove? There is a journey between us that’s being halted. We are not so sealed if you can physically hurt me without touching me. A cycle is happening, in the space between us, and all sorts of emotional and physical symptoms might ensue. When we love each other we become porous. In every way. And when we wound each other too. God, it’s unbearable.
Perhaps that’s why we watch and write plays. We can practise on fictional people. We have that cycle in the dark, touched by the actors and safe at the same time. I have started to think that art is just love interrupted. A so-called ‘normal’ person can engage in real time with another in a revolving, empathetic cycle. ‘You complete me’, we say. ‘Right back at you’, we say. It’s a special, constant communication with another. It’s being accepted fully; the topography of your mind laying on top of theirs, your heart curled up in their hands. But an artist only goes half the way. Then asks for you to meet them. Later.
As a writer with this play I wanted to express. I wanted to be known. I just didn’t want to be there when it happened. So I left these pieces of me abandoned on a page and hoped they’d complete the circuit for me. For a time I thought art was better than love – an end in itself. But it’s worse. It’s one side of a conversation I wasn’t brave enough to have. It’s eye contact with a mirror. It’s a broken bone. And a cast covers the fracture.
And the cast so valiantly hold it together. This abandoned hope. They so beautifully carry that love. They reach and repeat and emote in performing this play and hope you meet them halfway as an audience in understanding and feeling.
Thank you to them. And thank you to you. For completing things for me. I hope we all get to make it the whole way.