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A successful search for human intelligence

By Paul Knowles

If you search for the phrase, “human intelligence”, you’ll find this on Wikipedia: “Through their intelligence, humans possess the cognitive abilities to learn, form concepts, understand, apply logic, and reason.” (Photo: Geraint Wy Davies and Lucy Peacock… brilliantly funny)


 What you won’t find, of course, are references to most of the political leaders now sitting atop of governments around the world.

In fact, you couldn’t be faulted for concluding that “human intelligence” is a contradiction in terms.

I have been musing about this topic since I saw the Stratford Festival production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”.

Not that the play itself gives any solutions to this conundrum – you won’t find any answers to the human condition here, although you will certainly laugh at the questions.

No, I was struck by “human intelligence” from two perspectives – first, with gratitude that our race produces such brilliant writers as Noel Coward from time to time, and second, that I live so near theatres where I can see the work of talented and bright actors like Geraint Wyn Davies and Lucy Peacock. Now there is “human intelligence” personified.

I find it at least slightly reassuring that I can escape from the inane ramblings of current political leaders, televangelists, and pundits, and simply enjoy the brilliance of this playwright and these performers.

We are very lucky, in this area, although many of us miss that fact. Heck, I confess that there have been entire seasons where I haven’t seen a single play at Stratford… to my shame. Because we live minutes away from some of the finest theatre in the world.

The vision and persistence of Tom Patterson launched an unlikely cultural miracle. There is no reason (except for the accident of the name, “Stratford”) that this small Perth County city should be home to great – and I do not exaggerate with the term – theatre. But it is, and we are the beneficiaries.

This season, if you haven’t been to Stratford yet, “Private Lives” is a perfect way to start. It’s clever and quick – Coward wrote the play in four days, clearly 96 hours of unparalleled brilliance – and funny. But it also sheds a light on human relationships, on our foibles and follies.

And this production features a stellar cast, including two of Stratford’s finest veterans – Geraint Wyn Davies, who will astonish you will his clever stage business and comedic timing, and the wonderful Lucy Peacock.

Watch for the early scene when Peacock, without saying a word, reacts to her first sighting of Wyn Davies, and leaves the audience in stitches, literally gasping for breath. That recurs several times during the play, as hilarity carries the audience past the level of normal decorum. I could barely breath, a few times. If laughter is the best medicine, I have had my inoculation a few times over, just through “Private Lives”.

There is always something magical about live theatre – no matter how well rehearsed, how well memorized, there is the possibility of the unexpected, and that creates a tension and a bond shared by actors and audience alike.

In the case of the show I saw, the blip was the entrance, well into the play, of some audience members seated near the front – and the very clever response of Wyn Davies to the situation.

Human intelligence – if you can’t find it in newscasts, or on Twitter, it’s still alive and well on stage at the Stratford Festival.