The Fourth Wall

Recently, I went to see the wonderful comedy As you like it by William Shakespeare. Throughout the play, I was shocked to see so many interactions between the audience and the actors, completely destroying the fourth wall. The metaphorical wall that stands between the actors and audience, the wall that inhibits the actors from stepping into our world, and us from stepping into theirs. Although I enjoyed the play, this destruction of the fourth wall made me very uneasy.

I did not expect this assault on the fourth wall from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I expected great actors with great performance, even for a comedy like this one. I did not expect actors taking a seat next to viewers or even inviting them on stage or breaking from character and having a quick laugh about strictly come dancing. I could forgive the costume changes being done on stage as part of the artistic direction, however the breaking of the fourth wall was too much for me to handle.

The fourth wall is a very important theatrical convention, one that protects the actors from interruption and diversions, as they cannot see us but we, as silent observers, see them. The fourth walls shields the actors from screams and shouts of the outside world and it allows them to do their job diligently. Actors are never to cross the fourth wall, never to acknowledge the presence of the audience, only when the play is complete.

I understand that aspects of the play itself could be said to shake the fourth wall due to the famous line by Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;”. However, this line is not enough for the directors to dismiss the existence of the fourth wall. It can even be argued that a lot of Shakespeare’s plays move the fourth wall, with lines such as:

“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I would condemn it as improbable fiction” (Twelfth Night: Act 3 Sc 4)

“How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown!” (Julius Caesar: Act 3 Sc 1)

“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano; / A stage where every man must play a part, / And mine a sad one.” (The Merchant of Venice: Act 1 Sc 1)

However, none of this is an excuse for actors to come off stage and interact with the audience, nor invite the audience on stage to hold up post it notes, all for a few good laughs. Is this what theatre has reduced to? Breaking the fourth wall for cheap laughs and a few chuckles?

I feel that the fourth wall is a valued member of a theatrical performance, without it, it leaves the play lacking. If I wanted an interactive session, I would have gone to one. However, I paid money to see actors act and viewers view.  


Thank you for reading.

P.S. one thing that I did enjoy about the performance is the diversity in casting.

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