The play The Exquisite Hour is partly inspired by the chanson “L’heure exquise” by Reynaldo Hahn. The lyrics to this song, by French poet Paul Verlaine, are from the point of view of a young man speaking to his beloved as they stand near a pond at twilight. For them, a perfect moment that is intangible and fleeting. One that can not be bottled up, kept or recreated to enjoy again at a later date. One that must be savoured completely and immediately, for it will soon be over.
At first thought, I can think of many exquisite hours of my own: enjoying the sunset with a loved one, playing with my dogs, evenings at the cabin, but, in general, I can recreate these moments the next time the sun sets, the next time I see the dogs, the next time that I’m at the cabin. It won’t be identical, but it will be a pretty decent copy.
As I was writing the words intangible and fleeting and so on, I realized that my personal exquisite “hour” is watching a play. I consider myself pretty fortunate that it’s something that I get to do often, but it’s never exactly the same, and each moment needs to be savoured, because I probably won’t have the chance to experience anything quite like it again. I can’t replay the track if I really liked a certain riff or rewind if I want to hear the punchline again. It doesn’t have the slickness of a recorded album or a film. Everything is happening in that moment in front of my eyes, and is minutely different than what the audience saw last night and what the audience will see tomorrow night. Every fleeting instant is one that is being specifically created for me and my fellow audience members at this specific performance. The imperfection of it all is what makes it exhilarating and exciting.
Now I know that some people will fault me for claiming that my exquisite hour is still work-related, but never has sitting and watching a play ever felt like work, and I dread the day that it does. I think that would be a sign that it’s time to do something else with my life. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen my share of bad plays, but, no matter what, there’s always something about every production to savour, enjoy and celebrate. That’s one of the things that makes theatre so . . . well . . . theatrical. The work of art only exists for that performance for the audience, and for the length of the run for the performers. Once the curtain has fallen or the production has closed, it will never exist again in the same capacity.
Exquisite? Most definitely.
– Steven Greenfield. One of the Relephants.