Don’t open the box.
It sounds so easy. Just don’t open it. Don’t imagine what might be inside. Bury the box deep within the earth and forget about it. Terrible things may happen if you open it. So why can’t you stop thinking about it? At last you open the box and everything changes. The contents spill out and they can never be returned. All you can do is watch as the world you once knew falls apart. It will never be the same. You will never be the same.
This is why the story of Pandora’s Box is so appealing to me. It depicts one of our most basic needs as humans in a way that is timelessly relatable. Tell us not to do something and our first instinct is to ask, ‘Why not?’ Hide something from us and we agonise over what it could be. It is one thing to imagine and quite another thing to know. Even if the truth is painful, it is still the truth. Does it not deserve to be uncovered? By such noble reasoning, we can bring about our own destruction.
With such burning curiosity inside our hearts, is it any wonder why we are so private with others? We bury our boxes deep within ourselves and only share the contents with those we trust or those that we cannot keep them from. In this way, our secrets bind us closer together than if we held no secrets at all because the choice to uncover the truth is no longer ours alone. We can be exposed by those who we trusted or those we could not hide them from. At any time, on a whim, they might open the box and our secrets may come flooding out. All it takes is a catalyst.
When it came to choosing a catalyst that would be capable of unravelling a close-knit group of friends, Monopoly seemed like an obvious option. I take games very seriously. I love to play them but I hate to lose them, which is why I hate Monopoly. When I played it with my family as a small child, I would often lose early and then demand to be allowed to keep playing without any properties but with a tiny amount of cash. These days I am less petty but Monopoly is still capable of provoking powerful feelings of inadequacy, injustice and helplessness within me. As I said, I take games very seriously.
Most people aren’t so competitive. After all, it’s just a game. It’s something to pass the time so we don’t have to talk to each another about anything too important. It’s just a bit of fun. However, as the seconds turn into minutes and then hours, other tensions will emerge. We play to avoid the obstacles in our lives and yet these same obstacles replicate themselves within the game. No matter how hard we try, we make the same mistakes over and over. In the face of such shame, the hidden horrors may seem preferable to the horrors we know all too well. Even boredom may seem worse than the unknown.
When the fun is over but the game is not, we will find out how close we really are.
Dominic is the librettist of Pandora’s Box, The Opera Story’s fourth commission.
The planned performances of Pandora’s Box were postponed due to the health crisis, but we were able to produce a full video recording of the piece on the last day of rehearsals. This will be premiered on YouTube on Sunday April 26th at 8pm UK time. It is a pay-what-you-can event: please donate to the fund we set up to support the artists at https://theoperastory.com/support/ to receive the link.