Tuesday, 27 January 2009

In other news...


There seems to have been a massive revivification of the blogosphere of late (btw, is “blogosphere” actually the worst word in the world, or does it just feel like it?). Blogs are springing up, springing back to life, or simply springing to my attention for the first time. Whichever way, it feels like after something of a slump in 2008 theatre blogging is finding itself newly interesting once again. Hell, with the three or four pre-press night reviews of Complicit out there, it’s starting to feel like it might even be *useful*. Below is a selection of new and new-to-me blogs:

Ant Hampton of Rotozaza (I’m guessing it isn’t meant to be anonymous – message me quickly if it is, Ant) has renewed his blogging efforts and is posting a nice mix of promotional / archival stuff, found materials, alonside musings on both performances and performance.

I’ve never knowingly met Daniel Austen but mentions of Jersey and a Liron makes me wonder if I without knowing his surname. Either way, his blog has some lovely stuff in it.

Choreographer and publicist to the avant garde Nic Conibere and the company Theatre O have both recently started using the blog format to flag up their work.

All Play, I suspect, *is* supposed to be faintly anonymous, so we’ll keep it that way unless I’m told otherwise. Anonymous or not, it’s jolly good.

And lastly, not a theatre blog, per se, but a theatre project/installation-in-progress can be found at Some of the Things I Have Done to Get Over You. The idea is people send the blog's owner accounts of, well, some of the things they did to get over someone and the blog-owner puts them online. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops as a piece of work in the coming months.

I've also updated my blog-links at the side, archiving those which no longer seem to be "live" with an "x -" prefix, just to make browsing for new stuff a bit easier. If, I've x-ed your blog by mistake, do comment and I'll fix it. Apologies, also, to Zack Calhoon whose blog ends up underneath them as a result.

The “other news” bit...

Last week Postcards... had a bit of a holiday from theatre in anticipation of what promises to be a ferocious couple of weeks of non-stop press nights. Instead it's been seeing bands and even watching telly. It might not sound like much, but the occasional change of medium is as good a way as any to recharge one’s critical faculties.

Thus, today's “cover photo” above is half an hour of Postcards...' favourite extant band, the Official Secrets Act, in session last year. They played their best gig yet last Thursday and, with any luck, will be very successful indeed by this time next year. The first song – I think it’s called Back to the Mainstream – has now been stuck in my head for five days. Czech it, as the band like to say.

Other OSA stuff can be found here, here and here. While the video for their last single, So Tomorrow, is on YouTube and, through the magic of embedding, below:

I’m also terribly fond of their video tour diary, the best of which is almost certainly Day Four – Runcorn. I have no idea whether this will appeal to anyone else, but it makes me laugh like an idiot.

Sorry, I’ll stop with the appalling fanboy stuff now. In other band-related news, Postcards...' other friend-on-tour Like a Thief is currently working her way south from Scotland and is also posting a series of very sweet video diaries en route. I am particularly fond of this one:

So that’s modern pop music sewn up, now for TV... The output of BBC4 doesn’t seem to get talked about half as much as it should if last Wednesday is anything to go by, which admittedly it probably isn’t. First up there was the first episode of the first TV series from Cowards, the idiosyncratic comedy quartet (Jesus, I'm starting to sound like a Radio 2 announcer again) - a sample can be found below, although the whole first episode is still on iPlayer at time of posting:

Then, after an episode of Madmen, which also seemed pretty good, there was Beau Brummell: This Charming Man – a 2006 made-for-TV film scripted by playwright Simon Bent about the life of Beau Brummell. This was a really great bit of TV film-making. It had that kind of make-no-bones-about-it we’re cheap-as-chips and just as enjoyable joie de vivre and swagger that Michael Winterbottom’s better films (24 Hour Party People and Cock and Bull Story) have. It also had a period instruments quartet cover of Lust for Life as the opening music and the original Smiths song from which it took its title for the credits. I suppose it’s a sad reflection on my stage addiction that I really love films which aspire to a kind of theatricality, and this had bucketloads combined with more theatrical allusions, quotations and in-jokes than you could shake a stick at. The below isn’t really a great scene, but it’s the best YouTube could come up with. I’m not sure the film is actually quite as good as I remember it being, but watched with the right amount of wine, it passes the time very pleasantly...

And finally...

I should also, if only for my own reference, also quickly reference my first few Guardian blogs and Time Out reviews of this year:


Bush/political theatre

Anyway, I’ve rambled. Sorry about that. Postcards... aims to be back with a bit of concision as soon as possible. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the links and vids…

Monday, 26 January 2009

On taste and "truth"

Following the last post, I got into a bit of a discussion with a friend on Facebook and I thought I’d share my side of the discussion here. In fact, I’ve been meaning to post it for a while but never seemed to get around to it. Partly because of a growing planned blog of links and updates which is now getting stupidly unwieldy. Anyway, the friend in question got the ball rolling with: “I'm really sorry to see you fielding the traditional critics’ position of running down people who respond to reviews.”...

I'm sorry it comes across as if I'm "running down people who respond to reviews" in general. I'm running down some specific people for the way they have responded, but I absolutely don't think artists and theatre workers, not to mention members of the public, *don't* have a right to respond.

I do wish, though, that the responses didn't so frequently fall into the "you're deaf/blind/mad", "you weren't there", "you're a disgrace" categories.

I also agree that the artists/people/whoever have the right to be respectfully heard. However, once they've been respectfully heard, digested and mulled over, they also have to face the fact (just as critics do) that they might not be agreed with, and indeed may well be passionately disagreed with. I'm always interested when someone disagrees with my view of something, although I'll admit that "my view" probably took much less time to come up with than the thing of which it is a view of - i.e. I'm not going to claim that my review was anything like as hard to write as a play (damn these character limits on comment boxes).

It's mostly witless invective and stubborn refusal (or apparently incapability) to comprehend another point of view that gets my goat. You've probably read me on, oh, let's say Katie Mitchell's Attempts on Her Life, for old time's sake - I really struggled to understand the viewpoint of those who hadn't loved it as much as me. But I was always prepared to at least see that it was possible not to like it.

There's a slightly different thing when one objects to the *premises* on which someone's objections are based - if it feels like there's a tick-box-type criteria already in place which has come between the critic/opinion-holder and the work in question. I guess I do strongly object to prejudices colouring judgement - I do worry, for example, that because I also do a fair bit of banner waving for the old postdramatic thing (which one of my Slovakian colleagues recently decided was so over, you might be amused to hear) and “director's theatre” people might assume/decide that if something isn't in that vein, then I'm going to be so against it ideologically that I won't be able to enjoy it for what it is.

It’s a complex old argument - where does taste stop and prejudice kick in? Are tastes not a sort of prejudice anyway? I dunno. All I can do in my defence is point to my reviews of things like, say, the Donmar-in-the-West-End's superlative Ivanov or, say, Now or Later at the Court and say, these don't fit the criteria which I'd be being accused of having, and yet I liked them both an awful lot. Hell, the show I'm most looking forward to next week is Private Lives at Hampstead, and I'm really not expecting any innovative staging whatsoever. In fact I'd probably be alarmed if there was any; literalist, let-the-script-speak-for-itself reactionary that I am.

My interlocutor then apropos the postdramatic/”director’s theatre” thing said something about “honouring” Ibsen and “shared sense of the truth”:

Suffice it to say, I'm basically with the post-structuralists on truth up to the point where they get all impenetrable and start claiming that something like WWI isn't verifiable - which I guess makes me a bad post-structuralist, but at least stops me being a useful idiot for Holocaust deniers. And makes crossing the road a good deal simpler.

But, as far as texts go, I do think “truth” is subjective and “serving the text” doubly so. I think to an extent texts can only tell you what you already know, or at least that you can only understand them through your understand of the world, even if they subtly or wholesale-y alter that understanding of the world. I think, in this context, "truth" is a slightly disingenuous label for a (perfectly valid and frequently successful and enjoyable) aesthetic choice. I just don't like it being called "truth". That said, I do know what you mean, and I don't have anything against you carrying on doing things that way - big of me, I know :-). It's just the philosophical side that worries me - if one way is "truth" it makes it possible to call different aesthetic choices “wrong”.


Meanwhile at roughly the same time, David Jays wrote an excellent piece coming at sort of the same question from a different angle, which is well worth reading.

Hopefully in the next day or so, my massively overdue review of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour will come together, along with the unwieldy linktastic post. Then there might even be a bit of new and original thinking online before too long.

Today’s cover image comes from here. The artist, Robert The, has this to say about it: “Obsession with the semiotic erosion of meaning and reality led me to create objects that evangelize their own relevance by a direct fusion of word and form. Books (many culled from dumpsters and thrift store bins) are lovingly vandalized back to life so they can assert themselves against the culture which turned them into debris.”

Thursday, 22 January 2009


When is a review not a review? The other day, clicking through to Michael Coveney’s review of Oliver! from Mark Shenton’s blog, I was surprised to discover that beneath the piece was a comment box where various members of the public were venting their barely literate umbrage at his less-than-ecstatic write-up.

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of blogs and blogging. I like the discussions they open up. I like the fact that there are now reams and reams of interesting, intelligent articles written about theatre all over the world (although admittedly I struggle to read anything not written in English), available at any time of day or night, that can be read, engaged with, discussed with like- and unlike-minded people.

I don’t really see reviews in the same way. Yes, there are “blogs” which consist almost solely of reviews, the West End Whingers being clear leaders in the field. That said, one of the Whingers’ greatest USPs is the conversational, often formally innovative, slightly open-ended nature of their reviews. There’s a sense that they know both their audience and how their blog often functions as a starting point for conversations between their readers in the comment threads. It’s also why reactions like that of Elly Hopkins from the Tricycle look so starkly out of place.

Printed theatre criticism is also part of a wider conversation. If not directly with the artists, then at least with the artform, the public and the wider culture. At the same time, my instinctive reaction to the addition of comment boxes to online versions of reviews is that it is a Very Bad Thing. It’s currently only practiced by The Times, the Independent and Time Out, but like most things, it will probably become more widespread as papers get more and more caught up in the whole mad rush toward Total Interactivity.

But is it really a bad thing? Might opening up the theatre review to the same discursive tendency as the blogosphere make for a wider, more robust debate? Perhaps in time, but that’s not how it seems to work at the moment. The generally accepted form and tone for theatre reviews, in Britain, at present, is a world away from the “so what do you think?” approach taken by many blogs and bloggers. It’s concise, authoritative, avoids the personal pronoun, and typically states its opinion clearly. Unfortunately, this concision and clarity is sometimes misinterpreted by “the public” as either “objectivity” – or at least an attempt at it – or, worse, as “not objective enough”.

Let’s look at those objections to Michael Coveney’s Oliver! review. It’s well worth reading them in full, but here are some highlights – I’ll try to categorise them to keep this simple [all sic until further notice]:

Snappy introduction:
“Hahaha! That was the most pointless thing my eyes have ever read! I don't even know why i read it. It kept me amused for about 5 minutes though, only because i laughing at how wrong you are!”

Question faculties:
“What exactly was Michael Coveney on last night, too much wine or is he just deaf and blind... Maybe Michael needs a hearing aid”
“you are obviously either deaf or extremely dull when it comes to recognising true talent!
“Are you going mad?”
“I mean come on Michael seriously, it's called common sense! If you know what that is anyway and by the looks of that review i guess not.”
“So yeah, your review was totally pointless and one hundred percent wrong! It did keep me amused though, it also made me realise how many deranged people there are in this world. Yes, you do happen to be one of them.”
“I would advise your paper to either send him to a doctor for clinical depression as the show i saw tonight was simply fantatsic.”

Question attendance:
“he must have been the only one in the audience (if he was there) that thought her performance was poor.”
“I have seen the show and your so wrong! I dont know why you wrote that but you watched a different show to me!!!”
“Did you see the show I saw? Obviously not...”
“I dont know why you wrote that but you watched a different show to me!!!”
“Did you actually attend the opening night of Oliver?”

Demand sacking:
“Persoanlly I think the only embarrassment is this newspapers so called critic who need a good shake up or a differnt job as clearly Michael Coveney is inadequate in his role as theatre critic.”
“i find your paper should seriously consider removing some of there staff, this being Michael Coveney.”
“(The Independent must be embarassed by you though).”
“You are the only 'theatre critic' to give a bad review of Jodie and moan about the rest of the show.”

Rhetorical flair:
“If she was as bad as an actress as you are stating then why on earth did the audience jump on their feet to cheer for her? Answer me that!”
“is Michael Coveney that stupid to the fact that, that is why the british public vote.”
“well, i could say so much to argue with that but sadly there isnt enough space in this box.”

Groundless accusation:
“It's clear that you are one of the snobs who are against how she came to be in the role.”

“Jodie Prenger is right for the role of Nancy and was brilliant in every aspect.”
“I was there and all of the audience appriciated the whole performance,”
“Firstly Rowan Atkinson was amazing!!!! and second Jodie Prenger was totally awesome! She sand "As long as he needs me" with so much power! I nailed you to the back of the room! thats why she got a standing ovation!! And the cheering was because she rocked!”

and A strong finish:
“One final thing, maybe you need to aske the audince, we paid for the tickets, if we thought the performace was poor, I for one would not have stayed thorugh to the end but would have asked for my money back. How many of the audience compained. Not many, if any at all, I bet.”

[end of sic]

Fun, no? Adding to the general store of useful knowledge and debate, yes? Hardly a ringing endorsement for adding comment boxes to reviews. The problem is, while part of the point with blogs is, alongside stating opinions and tossing ideas about, to engender discussion. Reviews are a bit more blunt. Of course, readers could respond by saying blog-comment type things like “Coveney raises an interesting point where he suggests...” and so on. But because reviews firmly state an opinion, those responding to them tend to firmly state one back, and it is usually a contrary opinion framed with invective that borders on libellous. It doesn’t really seem necessary to anatomise the sophistry and sheer lack of intelligence in the above responses, but the tone is interesting to note nonetheless.

Writing for Time Out, I have a limited experience of this myself. The best example being my disparaging review of The Pendulum under which the company – signed in as itself, to their credit – published a selection of quotes from more favourable reviews. As it happened, by this point I’d read a lot of those reviews myself and disagreed violently with them and found their opinions frequently baffling. But such is criticism. A better example is sadly no longer online thanks to Time Out’s rather erratic archiving, but I did manage to get the comments that had been left under my review of 1,800 Acres emailed to me by Jane Edwardes. These included a whole “alternative” review which, remarkably, found the show to be well-written, insightful, and brilliantly performed. It’s a shame it’s not still online as it makes a useful demonstration of the worst sort of comment-leaving – anonymous postings from members or friends of members of the company involved.

In a move which, by and large, I deplore, the Guardian has even set up a column with this function now. In the paper it’s called Right to Reply and frequently rustles up annoyed actors and directors to reviews by the paper’s theatre critics. There’s an interesting example currently raging online where the director of Sylvia Plath’s radio play Three Women has a go at taking Lyn Gardner to bits for her review of his show. He demonstrates pretty much all the worst faults of this sort of response. Right to Reply should be retitled “Nearly Enough Rope...”, since virtually no director or actor I’ve ever seen indulge in this sort of meta-criticism ever comes out of it looking good. I don’t know if it’s the editing their pieces receive, the briefing they’re given, or whether the only people who take the opportunity to write such Replies are entirely devoid of any sense that their opinion might not be the only one in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think theatre critics are infallible. In fact, I often think at least fifty per cent are just plain wrong, but I am interested in the most productive way that artists can respond to their critics. Not least because it would make things easier for me if I was allowed not to like things candidly without worrying about upsetting people. Of course, that’s probably impossible. Either one upsets people, or one is dismissed as an idiot for not getting the point. And sometimes you really might not have got the point. Although, sometimes, that might be the company’s fault for not making it clear what the point was. The worst case scenario is that you misunderstand, unnerve and consequently destroy what was a really lovely, fragile bit of work that you totally failed to understand.

The whole critic-artist relationship is fraught with difficulties, but I’m not convinced that invective from members of the public teamed up with published denunciations from cast and crew are going to make things any better.

Today’s cover image is apparently one of Siebren Versteeg’s The Satan Drawings (2007) – about the fourth result from a Google image search for “Inside the internet”. And because I think it looks quite cool.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Complicit - Old Vic

Yesterday, the Old Vic moved the press night of Complicit back by nine days amidst a flurry of speculation as to whether this was because Richard Dreyfuss couldn’t remember his lines; so this isn’t a “review”, per se, just a blog post from someone who happened to see the show last night.

Frankly, Mr Dreyfuss’s memory is the least of Complicit’s problems; he’s currently got a nice line-feed ear-piece to save him from drying and his performance proceeds unperturbed. No, Complicit’s big problem is Joe Sutton’s script; which is dreadful.

Benjamin Kritzer (Dreyfuss) is a fictional Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who, in the days following 9/11, wrote an op-ed piece suggesting that torturing al-Qaeda terrorists might not be such a bad idea. After this, he has an apparent change of heart and writes a book, or possibly an article, or maybe both – the script seems a little unclear on this point – which investigates the American programme of extraordinary rendition. During the course of researching the book a whistleblower inside the government gives him the official documents containing the actual orders for torturing particular suspects, the location of the torture and the names of those involved and those giving the commands.

The “action” of the play – or rather the point at which everyone shouts at each other for two hours – is set in the middle of an inquiry in which Kritzer is being leant on by a judge to reveal his source. The drama of the piece is nominally provided by Kritzer’s internal conflict as to whether or not he should cave in to these demands or face up to twenty years in prison on charges of espionage. This dilemma is explored through Kritzer’s conversations with his lawyer Roger Cowan (David Suchet) and his wife (Elizabeth McGovern).

Beyond this, for most of the first half, it seems pretty unclear what the book actually said and moreover, what was in the document that he was given. Indeed, it feels oddly as if Sutton had deployed that classic Ibsen “dark secret” structure, with everyone alluding obliquely to some event too terrible to name, leading toward a big pay-off. This is a bit of a mistake, though, since all the debates that Kritzer has with his lawyer and his wife pretty much depend on some understanding of what the hell he’s talking about, what’s at stake, and so on. It comes across like an odd and totally unnecessary conflation of Martin Amis’s “thought experiment” with the Andrew Gilligan “sexed-up dossier” inquiry.

Beyond the immediate journalistic integrity dilemma, Sutton is interested in examining America’s use of torture during the War on Terror. There’s some passable speechifying about how great America is, or was before it started torturing people, and then some stuff about how everyone is too self-interested and how protests against the Vietnam War stopped two years before the war did; just after the draft was abolished. They're West Wing off-cuts really, but they’ll do. The problem is, though, that Kritzer doesn’t seem at all sure of what he thinks about anything. And, for a journalist, he seems oddly under-informed and almost ingenuously naïve and trusting. Ultimately the focus of the play is not really America’s use of torture so much as Kritzer, Kritzer’s concern for his good name, and what Kritzer thinks about America’s use of torture. The dialog all seems to loop back to a tiresome “me, me, me” refrain, which, in the face of Geneva Convention violations and the world stage, looks more than a little egocentric. Moreover, because so very little is actually going on beyond discussion of the case, ethics and torture, the audience is given very little of Kritzer as a person, so we just have to take in on trust that we care about him. Suchet’s Cowan, the tough-talking Jewish lawyer, is actually a far more interesting character since he actually does things, makes decisions in the moment and, crucially, doesn’t just talk about himself. He talks about things, through which we get to learn about him as a character. It’s a pretty basic dramatic principle. Meanwhile, the more Kritzer talks about Kritzer, the less he seems to know, which is fine as a way of revealing something about his character, but somewhat irritating as the substance of a play.

For what it’s worth, Kevin Spacey’s production isn’t particularly bad – even if the play itself is excruciatingly boring. David Suchet is pretty good as Cowan, Dreyfuss isn’t quite as good as Suchet, but he has his moments – both good and bad – and sadly, Elizabeth McGovern isn’t really all that good at all. The set’s a bit of a curiosity; the stage is a large Perspex dish (the space is still in its excellent in-the-round configuration, which frankly, they should keep forever) cris-crossed with metal beams and underlit by a mass of big tellies during scene changes and pre-recorded video sections that intersperse the action in which Kritzer is interviewed by Andrew Marr – yes, they’ve got the real Andrew Marr. The net result is that it looks like an odd cross between a dartboard and The Weakest Link. I guess it looks quite nice, though, if a little showy.

What is interesting, however, is that despite Mr Dreyfuss’s line-learning issues evidently being an issue, reports from friends who saw much earlier previews suggest that they are a bit of a red-herring as far as the put back press-night goes. Dreyfuss is basically fine. Hell, if Recorded Delivery can do a show wired, there’s no reason he shouldn’t. the wire is barely noticeable and doesn’t appear to impede his performance one iota. No, in the programme there are two “Interrogators” credited. These now make only the briefest of appearances at the very close of the play, in a kind of nightmare coda that I’m afraid looks as if it has been lifted from an entirely different, and not-very-good student drama Guantanamo-protest piece. Apparently there were more of these before and, according to my source, they were utterly risible. Spacey might want to think about knocking out this final example before press night. It suddenly changes the entire register of the piece, but only lasts ten seconds or so. Moreover, it feels like a rather juvenile way of making sure everyone gets the message. Either that, or the production should have to courage of its convictions and deliver something genuinely shocking at the end. Not just an allusion, but something as difficult to watch, as the earlier descriptions of torture are to listen to.

It is possible that in the next eight days, Spacey and his obviously committed cast may turn this show around, but I’m not entirely sure, with the whole script in need of a serious overhaul, that there will be enough time. It’s possible that the play will find admirers, but on current showing, it’s a pretty forlorn hope.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Fish Clay Perspex - Shunt Vaults (LIMF)

[Written for CultureWars.org.uk]

Faulty Optic’s new show Fish Clay Perspex turns out to be a triptych and its title to be a succinct captioning of each discrete segment. Thus in Fish, we see a lone puppet man standing on a beach, collecting pebbles, and then being surprised to discover that a large fish has suddenly attached itself to the top of his head.

Clay sees a strange, similar looking puppet chap sculpting a curious shape from clay, before experiencing either a visitation or an out of body experience; shaping the clay into a surprisingly proficient likeness of a face, and then returning to his/her(?) body and hacking the face up with real violence.

Perspex, lastly, tells the story of two odd, smaller, white puppets that live behind a giant Perspex screen, on which things get drawn with wipeable markers with which they can then interact as if they were 3D projections into their world. Thus one puppet can draw some stairs onto the screen, for example, and then proceed to walk up them.

The three sections are linked by a series of – I guess – puppet dance sequences in which a cloud of cotton wool delivers three pin-footed, armless figures to a small polystyrene stage on which they gyrate and pirouette.

Does it add up to anything? Your guess is quite possibly as good as mine. There’s no overt attempt at a through-line, although the cloud of cotton wool seems to loom large in each of the sections heralding their arrival and departure like a big woolly omen. There are common themes of human struggle against nature, the elements, chance, and its own nature, the subconscious and self-doubt – the fish of the first section could as easily be a representation of the puppet beachcomber’s personal issues as it could be an actual fish.

It is the final section, Perspex, which most imaginatively draws these threads together and offers a bleak resolution in which the final puppet standing is taken by the omen-cotton-wool-cloud leaving only an outline drawn on the glass, before the three armless fates perform their final dance before the lights go out. At eighty minutes, the piece could cut down on some of the more tiresome repetition of the first sequence, but generally speaking it’s an engaging and diverting enough way to spend the time.

More CultureWars London International Mime Festival coverage can be found over on Matt Trueman's blog, as well as at CultureWars itself.

Love in (3) Parts - Southwark Playhouse

[Written for CultureWars.org.uk]

Love in (3) Parts is a well-crafted, nicely designed, excellently acted bit of fluff. It’s basically a boy-meets-girl story, told through a series of cut up scenes from the beginning, middle and latter stages of a relationship.

Paul and Claire work at a publishing company together and Paul has asked Claire out on a date. He’s nervy, socially awkward and - it gradually becomes clear – is suffering from a rather pronounced case of OCD. He’s also rather sweet, kind and gentle. Claire is friendly, kind and seems keen for things to work out between them, and spends her spare time having conversations with her dead mother in the static of a television screen.

Their progress from awkward first date to the point where they’re living together and leaving each other cute messages on Post-it notes is nicely observed. Their humdrum lives, Ikea furniture and modest but nice aspirations (he wants to be a graphic artist, she has ambitions of publishing a children’s book she’s discovered) make them the kind-of everycouple to whom it is impossible to object.

Similarly, the production, which feels curiously like a companion piece to Third Angel’s Presumption (seen at the Southwark Playhouse last year), is nicely put together. The set is unfussy and stylishly lit. The way that the John Shaw’s script experiments with linearity while using the most normal everyday language is, again, nice. The two performers, Rich W. Burton and Sally Kent, both turn in well observed, truthful, effective performances as Paul and Claire. The addition of a live musician who underscores the action with deft acoustic guitar melodies and songs while sitting invisible in the set, but occasionally passing one of the characters a mug or pen, is a lovely touch.

But for all this, the piece does feel somewhat contrived and slight. Given the themes and events, there is room for a huge emotional impact which it simply doesn’t deliver. The company’s own programme seems to be making a virtue of this modesty, as if Lost Dog Theatre Company is a bit too polite and bashful to want to make a fuss about emotional turmoil. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea, either. This is kind of post-histrionics relationship-angst theatre. Gentle, unassuming, kind and quietly sad; without having to raise its voice.

Old news

Over the Christmas holidays there were a couple of things that almost tempted me back to a keyboard to post a response. The first was Theo Hobson’s staggering review of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella in the Sunday Times. It’s been a long time since a single review has made me quite so cross. It’s worth quoting at some length:

“At first, this retelling feels a tad overclever. The physical theatre is energetic and assured, but will my daughter be able to follow it? Why is Cinders Chinese? Who is this aimed at? Soon, though, the familiar story is gripping, and has a surprising new depth. Cinderella takes refuge in fairy tales — is she a bit unhinged? Her gradual enslavement is credible (partly thanks to certain recent news stories) and there’s a serious, epic feel to her exile from love. The use of a Chinese actress helps us to believe in both her subjugation and her exotic otherness.”

Hang on, did he really just say “The use of a Chinese actress helps us to believe in her subjugation”? And “exotic otherness”? My God, he actually did. I’m also especially taken with “Why is Cinders Chinese? Who is this aimed at?” as if the next question in sequence is “The Chinese?”

It is beyond appalling that almost a decade into the 21st century the Sunday Times can still employ someone to review theatre who finds colour-blind casting worth bringing up at all. Not a word on Elizabeth Chan’s performance. Hell, not even a namecheck; she’s just “a Chinese actress”. Indeed, Hobson uses up so much of his word-count registering his surprise at this non-white Cinderella that he has virtually no space left to describe the play. Frankly, if I were editor of the Culture section, I’d sack him.

The other thing was the ongoing saga of the West End Whingers’ visit to the unreserved seating of Kilburn’s glamorous Tricycle Theatre. “The Tricycle was the recipient of the Award for Worst Seating in last year’s Whingies and it is looking a dead cert that they will steal the title this year too. But before judging, the Whingers wanted to get the full picture of the awfulness of the seating policy. So they took a trip up the Jubilee Line to Kilburn on Saturday afternoon to take in the matinee of Joe Orton’s Loot.”

Their subsequent amused description of punters trying to find seats in something that, turned on its side, would have resembled “a live version of Tetris” attracted the humourless ire of Tricycle’s marketing manager Elly Hopkins: “Thanks so much for your comment on our website. All your comments duly noted, ignored and binned - as the Tricycle is such a ghastly experience for you we would hate to put you through any more agony, so maybe it would be better for your blood pressure if you confined your theatre going to the West End - as your blog implies!”

It is a remarkable own goal. As Ian Shuttleworth comments:
“What kind of representative of a theatre publicly tells a couple of moderately influential bloggers that the venue is interested neither in their patronage nor their feedback, and pretty much advises them to stay away? Did it not occur to you that this might make both you and the Trike look humourless and offhand, even contemptuous? And if you’re not posting on formal behalf of the Tricycle, aren’t they going to be unpleasantly surprised to see the impression you’ve given of them? Such a loss to the Diplomatic Service, Elly…”

Mark Shenton was similarly surprised by the outburst:
“As critics like Ian and myself here read, write and contribute to blogs regularly, there’s a lesson to be learnt here that they’re not to be treated with this kind of contempt, and perhaps proves in a stroke that the contempt of the theatre and some of its officers for its audience only starts with its unreserved seating policy, but far from ends with it.”

Having so far spent the whole week in theatres with unreserved seating – the Soho on Tuesday, the Pleasance on Wednesday and the Southwark Playhouse on Thursday (Ok, I spoilt it on Friday by going to the National), I must confess I don’t have half as much of an animus against unreserved seating as the Whingers, let alone Mark Shenton, who seems to imply that the Tricycle’s unreserved seating policy constitutes the “comtempt of the theatre... for its audience”.

Indeed, quite the reverse is true. Someone – I think it was Peter Bradshaw, but I can’t find the blog (if anyone can, do please leave the link below) – once made the point that reserved seating in theatres was the most nakedly stratified division of audiences imaginable, and was based solely on how much money they had. The argument for unreserved seating, then, is clear; theatres which hope to have any kind of left-wing credibility adopt it (it is no surprise therefore that the most prominent unreserved venues are the Soho, the Tricycle and the Traverse), while for smaller venues, having any kind of differentiation in seat prices would simply be a) silly and b) logistically burdensome.

It was during a particularly arduous audience scramble into the Traverse last year that the parallels of the two respective political allegiances stuck me – reserved seating is theoretically capitalist: it is coldly efficient and privileges the rich; unreserved seating, conversely, though theoretically fairer, is inefficient and frequently a complete shambles – kind of like big-statism in a nutshell. Then again, the analogies slip slightly when confronted with the easy access and plentiful space of the Southwark Playhouse or, say, Riverside Studios. Conversely pretty much any West End press night you care to mention will routinely go up ten minutes late because of blithering idiots who don’t go in before the show’s stated start time, cannot find a row, cannot apparently read a seat number, and by those who somehow magically know that they are in the middle of the row and so leave it until the last minute before trying to take their seats causing everyone to stand up as the shuffle slowly past.

Yes, I know theatre is meant to be all groovy and all about being in the same room as other people experiencing the same and, y’know, enjoying some sort of common humanity and so on, but, seriously, have you been to a West End press night? It takes a pretty special sort of play for me to feel the slightest shred of fellow feeling for anyone else in the room after the amount of fuss everyone has made just sitting down.

Anyway, rather than ending in a big old pile of grumpy, three other things I came across more recently, all very much in the miscellaneous camp are:

Forthcoming (in May) – there’s the Annual Address to the Society for Theatre Research given by outgoing society chairman, former editor of Theatre Record, and globetrotting president of the IATC Ian Herbert. The address, entitled Look Back in Languor, will apparently take the form of readings from Ian’s “old school exercise book in which I set out to report on a year's plays and films before taking up my place at Cambridge.” In 1958.

Secondly, I recently came across this website which links to Postcards.... If anyone can tell me where it’s based, which language it’s written in, what they’re actually saying and why on earth they might be interested in Postcards... I’d be most grateful.

Lastly, I notice that saucy literary blogger Hitchcock Blonde has moved in round the corner from Postcards Central. Crumbs.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Roaring Trade - Soho Theatre

[Written for CultureWars.org.uk]

Steve Thompson is one of the few people who must be thanking God for the recession. His new play Roaring Trade, set in the offices of a London investment bank, purports to “expose just how far people go for the highest-risk jobs in the City”. Sadly, this hint of topicality is largely illusory. The play is essentially recession-free, pre-crunch and would probably have felt just as timely after the collapse of Barings in 1995 as it does now. In fact, the piece boils down to a simple morality tale where people who behave unpleasantly to other people eventually get their comeuppance, complete with poignant final scene showing us exactly what the author thinks is really important in life.

And this is the problem. Throughout the production, the distaste of both playwright and director for the values of the Square Mile is so pronounced that at no point is any character allowed to seem impressive or laudable. At all times there is a drive to undermine whatever characters are doing with this insistent message that having “feelings” and “being nice” is preferable to being tough and making money. Conversely, the casting here feels all wrong in the opposite direction. Almost every single actor on stage just comes across as a bit too “nice” for the characters they are supposed to be played. Despite being given all sorts of tough-talking lines, you don’t for a minute believe any of the cast are actually “like that”.

Andrew Scott as chippy sort-of cockney Donny looks like a kicked puppy, and no amount of Johnny Rotten-sounding sneering can disguise it. Similarly, Christian Roe’s posh new boy, nicknamed Spoon (as in silver), just doesn’t project the arrogance, assurance and natural condescension of the public school banker. Their older colleague PJ similarly fails to convince as someone who owns a seven bedroom house in Hampstead, while Sandy, PJ’s wife, certainly doesn’t look like someone who’s gotten used to the finer things in life. I’m all for non-naturalism in theatre, but if you’re going to do realism, you should go all the way and this production doesn’t. Nothing in Kandis Cook’s set looks expensive enough, and it needs to. The point of this world is money, visible wealth. It should look intimidating to those who don’t have it. Where are the expensive haircuts, expensive personal grooming and the expensive food?

That said, there are some good lines and some nice moments of tension, not to mention a stunningly good performance from 13-year-old Jack O’Connor as Donny’s son Sean. Indeed, perhaps the play’s best scene is that in which Donny sits in McDonald’s with Sean and explains to him how “short selling” works. Sure it’s one of those scenes that playwrights have to provide so that the audience can follow the financial transactions on which the plot hinges, but here the way it subverts the traditional father-son relationship with Donny’s relentlessly cynical advice adds a believable, likeable texture that is so missing elsewhere.

In the coming year theatres will no doubt be inundated by countless plays purporting to offer scathing critiques of the credit crunch, sub-prime mortgage fiascos and the ever-deepening recession, hopefully they’ll be funnier, sharper and will contain less finger-wagging and cheap point-scoring than Roaring Trade.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Unaccustomed provinces

_________________________________________----_______© Tim Etchells

Following my last post on Postcards..., Theatre Record editor Ian Shuttleworth – who I quoted at some length – made a couple of not unreasonable, raised-eyebrow type observations. Rather than going back and fleshing out the original train of thought I half-started on Friday, it seems simpler to restart it again here.

At the end of Upstream, upbeat, which mostly concentrates on work I saw in 2008 and what’s coming up in 2009, I made a quick, underdeveloped aside about a welcome and perceptible shift in Britain’s theatre-critical culture, which was prompted by reading a particular editorial in Theatre Record from 2004. I won’t reproduce it all again, but the bit that surprised me reads as follows:

“How, then, do we [British critics] react to work which is outside our more accustomed province? It's an interesting matter to consider, in a fortnight when we're presented with new pieces by both Forced Entertainment and Shunt, each a collective dedicated to presenting non-scripted, non-linear work.” I quickly went on to suggest “it looks like we’ve got proof positive of the paradigm shift that has been effected by the blogosphere” without really explaining why.


“by the blogosphere”? Shuttleworth cannily queries. Quite. The conclusion that what I perceived as a departure from the position the above-quoted passage has anything to do with the blogosphere needs a bit of unpacking and introducing before being suddenly whizzed round the corner and slammed into the end of a suggestion as a fait accompli. I disagree with Ian’s second comment that I make a “fallacious presumption” that his “mention of Forced Ent and Shunt back then pretty much constituted a demarcation of the outer limits of what was currently being considered. In fact they probably just constituted the outer limits of that particular fortnight.”

I don’t think I implied that Forced Ents and Shunt were *demarcation* of outer limits per se; or at least I didn’t intend to. What had surprised me was that in ’04 they were both described as “work which is outside our more accustomed province”. My point was that in ’09 such work seems much more likely to fall well *within* our “accustomed province”; that there is more of it about, and that critics are more likely (though by no means guaranteed) to engage with it rather than automatically dismiss it.


So what does any of this have to do with the blogosphere? Well, my pet theory, which I should have explained, is that since about 2005/6, because of the gradual growth of blogs writing about theatre/performance, and more often than not about non-mainstream work, a conversation (a discourse, if you like) has grown up around this work which has been both rigorous and accessible. Thanks to very public, very readable arguments like the one between George Hunka, Chris Goode and David Eldridge (the latter’s contribution now sadly taken offline), debates about why artists might want to make non-mainstream work, how they went about doing so, and most crucially what it was in their work that they perceived to be of value and the ways in which it can be approached, became public domain in a way that “performance studies” journals and essays tend not to be. For a start it was online and free. Anyone who was interested could read it. And because the discussions took place across a fairly broad spectrum in terms of both artistic outlook (Eldridge – Goode) and geography (Hunka – and, uh, Britain), they attracted a wider readership than just their own “fanbase”s (for want of a better word).

Beyond that, thanks to the general atmosphere of respect for one another as artists – even if totally opposed to each others’ positions – the conversations would be conducted not with an eye to sensationalism, but to genuinely trying to set out their positions. Even if synthesis was never quite reached, in the process, and in blogging more generally, a huge swathe of theoretical material, conversations about non-mainstream work, and strategies for approaching it, had a) become rapidly available, and b) become a major talking point for those interested in theatre.

White Male in Anger

This level of interest has an impact. If the Dead White Males hoo-hah could be taken as the moment when the blogosphere came into its own (although I am wary of giving blogging it’s own Look Back in Anger moment, as such things tend to sow the seeds for deeply reactionary tendencies to emerge later), it is primarily because there was a place for dissent to be registered. Moreover, there was a place where alternative viewpoints and positions were gradually being allowed to be given weight.

If we think back to all those “Is blogging the death of criticism?” pieces that turned up in the wake of the DWM kerfuffle, their primary concern seemed to be with how well-informed “bloggers” were and whether an “amateur”’s subjective opinion could be as good as that of a “professional”. However, these pieces often assumed that A Blog would be in direct competition with A Review, seeking to provide the same basic services (whatever those services might be – for full discussion, see millions of blogs, passim). However, such debates completely missed the fact that a large proportion of the theatrical blogosphere was an ongoing conversation that was gradually talking into being a pretty cogent user’s-guide to alternative theatre practices. Simply by giving exposure to - and enjoying, and discussing the work of - companies not being recognised in the mainstream press, such companies found themselves getting wider attention.


The net result is that, along with watching a bunch of people in costumes pretending to be other people - whose lines they learned from a printed script - in a darkened auditorium, another of our [critics’] more accustomed provinces these days is watching non-scripted, non-linear work, frequently presented in non-traditional/non-purpose built performance spaces. So much so, in fact, that as I noted in my short contribution to the Time Out end-of-year round upIt’s been a good year for… Site-sympathetic theatre. Soon every theatre will be putting on performances in underground car parks and office spaces and using the main stages for storage.” In a nice bit of synchronicity, Chris Goode’s newest blog post, notes the first example of this trend in 2009 and does an excellent job of unpacking the problems associated with the potentially uninterrogated wholesale importing of site-sympathy into the mainstream.

Is it rational to suggest this is all the doing of the blogosphere, though? No, of course not (and still less so to credit any change in Ian Shuttleworth’s personal position, which I possibly misrepresented in the first place, to it – although I’m not wholly discounting the possibility). But a lot of ideas discussed on the blogosphere have gradually gained a more general weight and acceptance. In part, this is to do with the fact that once an idea has been put into the public arena, it immediately starts to become less “shock of the new” and is increasingly assimilated and gradually going from being merely accepted to being expected. At the same time, the discussion around the value of such ideas gives audiences a way into work that may have seemed impenetrable.


There is a sort of truism that runs something along the lines of: “If you need a programme (or whatever) to understand a show, then it has failed”. Apart from being hysterically prescriptive – after all, there’s a counter argument that could run: “Why shouldn’t a programme (or whatever) allowed to play an integral part in a show?” the main problem with the statement is that it takes *now* as some kind of platonic ideal for information. All theatre, to a greater or lesser extent, will use a set of signs and conventions. Some are just more widely circulated and recognised and accepted in our current theatre culture. For example, other actors/characters not being able to hear an aside. It’s no more or less perplexing than the moment when, say, Andromache (I think it was) walked backwards across the stage in slow motion in Katie Mitchell’s Women of Troy.

“But what does that even mean, though?” critics of the latter might be tempted to cry. The question of “meaning” in the context of British theatre is an interesting one. Again, thanks to being exposed last year not only to a dizzying array of mainland European work, but also to my colleagues’ strategies for writing and thinking about (and in many cases also making) such work, the British desire for “meaning” started to feel distinctly odd. It’s one of the areas of which the blogosphere has expanded our possible frames of reference, but it remains possibly the hardest barricade to collapse.


Put simply, having been exposed to more contemporary dance and dance theatre, the concept of “what something means” has significantly shifted for me. There used to be an old chestnut at the National Student Drama Festival that when companies had made a devised piece full of opaque allusion and movement, they would say “It means whatever you want it to mean.” And would then have strips torn off them from all sides for “not taking responsibility for their piece’s meaning”. Being a student drama festival, this swung both ways; on one hand, there was the frequent suspiction that students really didn’t have the faintest idea what they were doing and as a result had simply created something that looked nice but which they didn’t really fully understand themselves. On the other hand, it seemed to suggest that what they were making had a responsibility to “mean something”. I’m not sure I fully agree with the second position any more.

The main reason for this is choreography. Choreography, unlike, say, dialectical text-based drama, isn’t necessarily “responsible” for providing an easy-(or difficult)-to-follow argument or story. Its wealth of allusion can be entirely impenetrable, and yet it can still move and communicate. Watching dance I often resent the fact that my brain is so theatre-trained (or is it British, or is it human) that it often won’t stop “reading” “stories” onto sequences of movement. My colleague Goda Dapsyte, a Lithuanian dance critic and producer, often used the expressions “dance-brain” and “theatre-brain” to distinguish between what she saw as two totally different ways of looking at the same work. Dance-brain thinking, as I understood it, involved a better understanding of what choreographic techniques had been used, and also seemed to have a greater tolerance for the slow build and minutes on end of repetition used in much contemporary dance. Theatre-brains, might be more prone to thinking, “Well, yes, you’ve done that movement now. We’ve seen it, we’ve taken it on board; you don’t need to repeat it agonisingly slowly 36 times. We’ve got the point. Move on”.


I’m getting a bit off the point, but the fact that two such radically different modes of interpretation can exist, suggests that this question of meaning is also far from fixed. Returning to the National Student Drama Festival, one of the best ways into thinking about contemporary dance was provided by then selector Matt Fenton, who in discussing a piece of work by two Dartington students, which had met largely with baffled incomprehension, explained that he responded to the piece rather as one might to a piece of jazz music. Music, if anything, is an even better way of thinking about alternative strategies for how “meaning” is created and transmitted. How much do we need to know about a piece of music for it to move us? How much narrative or argument need be involved?

All of which sort of brings me roundabout back to the beginning of this diversion, and the initial question of the blogosphere, the transformation of critical thinking, the retrenching of the mainstream and the growth of new ways of seeing theatre. I do believe that the four elements are inextricably linked, perhaps mostly in ways that are as yet to fully reveal themselves, but it seems impossible to discount the possibility just yet. Of course, those of the Billington school might well argue that all of the above is just proof that a lot of “trendy” thinking has made me a useful idiot for whatever charlatans turn up claiming that responsibility for the meaning in their piece resides in me as an active spectator, rather than in them as a company. To this charge one can only respond that even if the criteria *appear* to be more subjective and personal, there a) can still be a huge degree of judgement operated by the spectator, and b) it’s only them (the Billingtonites) who believe that their preferred forms hold to some imagined objective standards anyway.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Upstream, upbeat

__________________________________________*see endnote

I’d been promising myself I wasn’t going to do a “My Top Ten of 2008”, my reasoning being that they are cheap space fillers concocted in the absence of anything very real or proper to write about. Andrew Field made this argument reasonably convincingly over at the Guardian, and subsequently the Guardian’s Theatre Blog seemed to go into post-meta-round-up overdrive, or something. In the interim, the usual suspects (Michael, Susannah, Charlie, et al) all dutifully filed “proper” lists, which in the main selected perfectly good but mostly very mainstream plays, solidity and reliability seeming to be the main watchwords. All of which means that we end up with a largely uncollected year as far as more alternative work goes. Annoyingly, my own Top Ten, for want of a better sort of list, doesn’t do half as much as I’d like to change this.

Hedda Gabler – dir. Thomas Ostermeier (Barbican, London)

I Apologize – Gisele Vienne (Spordikirik, Rakvere, Estonia)

Static – by Dan Rebellato (Soho Theatre, London)

P*rn*gr*phie – dir. Sebastian Nübling (Andrej Bagar Theatre, Nitra, Slovakia)

Hamlet – dir. Oskuras Korsunovas (Arts Printing House, Vilnius, Lithuania)

Jonah Non Grata – Simon Kane (Shunt Vaults, London)

Press – Pierre Rigal (Gate Theatre, London)

When You Cry in Space Your Tears Go Everywhere – Tinned Fingers (NSDF, Scarborough)

Hamlet Episode – Daegu City Modern Dance Company (Rocket@Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh)

Six Characters in Search of an Author – dir. Rupert Goold (Gielgud, London)

Narrowly missing out on a place in the top ten were Dave St-Pierre’s Un Peu de Tendresse, Bordel de Merde!, seen at the Exodos festival in Ljubliana, Slovenia; Little Bulb theatre’s Crocosmia, which I caught in Edinburgh and [damn it, it’s gone, will try to remember]

It’s certainly a more diverse list than last year’s, which induced a bout of soul-searching about why I hadn’t been to more fringe venues/seen more experimental work. On the other hand, it’s also more diverse mainly because, thanks to the FIT Mobile Lab workshops and the IATC Young Critics’ conference in Wiesbaden, I seemed to spend weeks on end overseas.

Having said that, there isn’t anything from the National or the Royal Court this year either. And, unlike last year, thanks mostly to a lot of reviewing for Time Out, I *did* make it to a lot of fringe venues – pretty much one a week for almost the whole year. And yet only one show that I saw for Time Out made it into my top ten – Pierre Rigal’s Press (which is soon to be revived at Sadler’s Wells as part of the Paris Calling season), and that was at the Gate, which is hardly West End. Indeed, of the four Five Star reviews (out of a possible six for Time Out) I remember giving in ’08 (Press, Contractions, The Mikado and Cinderella - Lord alone knows why they’re all archived in “Sport”) only the Mikado at the Union could really be counted as “fringe”. Although, remembering how good it was is making me feel slightly stingey for not putting it in the Top Ten. Oh dear, how I actually hate hierarchy after all... Indeed, as I wrote in a blog for the Guardian after a particularly bad run fringe luck, much of the work seems to be well-meaning-but-pointless-at-best and often badly executed or in dire need of serious script-editing, if not complete re-writing. But, of course, there are the gems too. So no conclusions there.

One conclusion I did draw is that much of the good work on the fringe wouldn’t be at all out of place in a more “mainstream venue”. There are two reasons for this, firstly that quite a lot of good fringe work, Gemma Fairlie’s production of Hangover Square at the Finborough is a good example, isn’t alarmingly “radical” in any way. It’s good, solid, well-produced drama. Nothing wrong with that. The second reason is that “mainstream” theatres like the National and the Royal Court have actually started producing much more experimental work than they did even five years ago. Even in what felt like a relatively staid year for the National (Afterlife, Fram, Never So Good and Gethsemane) there was also in-i and To Be Straight With You.

Moreover, last year, I had only the faintest inklings about the live art or contemporary dance scenes. Sad to say, my knowledge on the domestic front isn’t much improved this year, or at least it doesn’t feel like I’ve “gone native” just yet, even if I am starting to recognise more of the names and perhaps the idiolects involved. Having said that, it does feel as it 2008 saw massive leaps ahead in the gradual elision between dance and theatre. Admittedly much of my perspective on this coming-together was informed by my experiences on the mainland where events nominally described as theatre festivals would quite happily programme work which would until recently have been firmly delineated as dance in this country.

You only have to consider that Press is the second show from The Gate to be transferring to Sadler’s Wells to get an idea of the significant shifts starting to take place. Oddly, this creates its own problems. At the launch of the hugely exciting Paris Calling programme I chatted to Alistair Spalding, the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells, about the difficulties that having dance theatre presented causes by dance venues with regard to who is supposed to review it. Essentially, papers have their dance critics, who are on the mailing list of Sadler’s Wells and their theatre critics who are on the mailing list for the Gate. So when a work transfers from one space to another, it seems to fall from one bracket into another, giving no real sense of continuity. Ivana Müller’s While We Were Holding It Together (which I really must write up), which I saw at the Baltoscandal festival in Estonia, is going to Sadler’s Wells in Febuary and I’d love to see it again, but as a theatre reviewer, I worry that I won’t be familiar enough to their press office – nor will any of my Theatre section colleagues at Time Out. This gradual crossover of interests needs to be addressed. I can only hope that in these increasingly straitened times, editors’ solutions won’t be to simply merge theatre and dance review sections with concomitant redundancies.

Worries about employment aside, I am hugely optimistic about the way that theatre seems to be headed in this country. A blog I’ve written for the Guardian (to be posted on Monday) looks at the huge amount of international work coming up in the next six months, and overall there have been a lot of imperceptible improvements. I was recently reading through the back numbers of Theatre Record editorials, all now gathered together from 2003 on the magazine’s revamped website, and was genuinely surprised by an editorial from 2004 in which Ian Shuttleworth wrote:

“We are, we Brit-critics, predominantly white, middle-aged, middle-class and male. A number of us - meaning no disparagement to their femininity - are to all intents and purposes honorary males; a number of us are flatteringly still referred to as middle-aged despite the advances of Father Time; some of us (myself included) are “scholarship boys”, not middle-class by background though firmly so by acculturation. In terms of perspective, though, we come pretty much from the same mould.

How, then, do we react to work which is outside our more accustomed province? It's an interesting matter to consider, in a fortnight when we're presented with new pieces by both Forced Entertainment and Shunt, each a collective dedicated to presenting non-scripted, non-linear work.”

Compare this with Shuttleworth’s reviews of, for example, Chris Goode’s recent work, and indeed engagement with, at Thompson’s Bank... and it looks like we’ve got proof positive of the paradigm shift that has been effected by the blogosphere.

There has been a massive change in perception in the past four years, and while it hasn’t necessarily gone far enough yet, it is hugely reassuring to come across something which appears to chart the progress already made. I’m still planning to make it to Devoted and Disgruntled tomorrow, but I have to say, while the devotion is up and running again, I’m not sure my disgruntlement is going to make the grade.

* picture inspired by recent friending on Facebook of the Italian performance company/person Ricci/Forte, who was using it as a profile picture. It seems to come from here originally.