Archive | July, 2012

But what’s it about?

22 Jul

Why is there so little discussion of the meaning of plays?

Is it a defense? Is it like the way we speak of people we find attractive? ‘Oh, he’s an 8’ – and by that glib reduction deny their power over us?

Or is it because we don’t expect to find any valuable meaning [any power] in a play? Do we expect to find it anywhere? And if not in art, where? Where do we think we get our ways of seeing from?

Or do we simply not realize – or refuse to acknowledge – that we see the world in a particular way? Or, as a Marxist critic might suggest, do we have a vested interested in believing that our particular vision is the unadorned Truth? 

To be honest, I find it difficult to be overly interested in judging the technical details of a production.  Maybe I lack something. But I want a play to give me more than the satisfaction that I am superior to it and its creators.

No-one survives this life, but I intend to go down fighting. I want a play to arm me for that fight. I want to leave the theatre with more than I entered. And that “more” is not disdain – or even admiration – for the artists.

The plays I need are fuel for life; logs to feed our open fire. They give warmth. They give light.  So we’ll gather, in silent fascination, and watch. And as one flickers out, we’ll throw on another, and no two will burn the same. And so we’ll pass this night, the dark and the cold all around us, and know that no dawn comes, except of our own making.

Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

Conservatism in Theatre 2

17 Jul

A post in which I use a capital T when I write the word Truth, and so prove I’m a serious Thinker.

I recently discussed the effect of conservatism on theatre criticism. Now I’d like to focus on its effect on performance.

We still work in the shadow of a great reaction – the reaction to nineteenth century melodrama.

In this reaction, Truth became the new standard.

It is still the watchword of most artists’ theatre practice.

But there’s a worm in its heart.

How do you judge if something is the Truth? [I’m going to deliberately ignore the issue of how do you then represent it.]

Something is True if it corresponds with what you already know. Perhaps you can see where I’m going?

Something is True in the theatre if it corresponds with what has already happened.

In other words, nothing that happens in the theatre actually matters.

Conservatism is the belief that all the important things have already happened and all the big decisions have already been made.* It’s the belief that they can’t happen in the theatre.

But they do.

Theatre makers don’t just reflect the Truth. We make it. Or, at least, we make something just as important.

When Jesus of Nazareth told his parables, or Aesop his fables, the response “that’s never happened” somewhat missed the point.

Plays present not just Truths, but also Ways of Seeing.

Ok, it’s a half a glass of water. But it’s not Truth that makes us See that glass as either half full or half empty.

So, if a piece of theatre doesn’t appear truthful, maybe its not.

Maybe it’s original.

 Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

* Once I again think I might have borrowed this line – but I don’t know where from!

Conservatism in Theatre

12 Jul

What is conservatism?

It is the belief that all the important things have already happened and all the big decisions have already been made.*

It is the belief that the world is old and we are insignificant, and all that’s left for us to do is follow the path and observe the rules.

In theatre, one effect of conservatism is lazy and uninspired criticism.

Go to a piece of theatre with certain criteria to be met and you’re ignoring that the work itself may have no interest in your criteria.

In response to this overt conservatism, you’ll sometimes hear that a work should be allowed to set its own criteria of success. “What were you trying to achieve?” says the critic to the artist.

But I’m not sure that’s so very different. It assumes that what you experienced in the theatre is not the actual thing, but rather an attempt at the actual thing.

So where is the actual thing?

Ways of seeing that diminish the importance of the present deserve our distrust.

For everything that can be done, can only be done now.

Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red

* I have a feeling I’ve borrowed this line from somewhere, but I don’t know where.

Why being a reviewer is tough

8 Jul

The popular perception of reviewers is that we are superficial, lazy, pompous, careless and shallow.

Being a reviewer is tough.

It’s not all champagne and free tickets.

Firstly, you have so little time. The play may have taken years to write, had oodles of development and months of rehearsal. At most, you have a couple of days. So you seem superficial.

Secondly, you have so little space. A play can last two and a half hours. You can’t expect a reader’s attention for more than five minutes. So you look lazy.

Thirdly, the criteria by which you evaluate the play are hardly universal, are probably idiosyncratic, and are almost certainly not shared by the artists. But the review isn’t meant to be a discussion of you and your aesthetics, so you mention your criteria blandly or ignore them all together. So, you sound pompous.

Fourthly, you really can’t give much away. There’s the taboo against spoilers, but its pretty much true of all the best bits of the play. All your assertions seem unsubstantiated. So you’re careless.

Fifthly, a play has multiple voices. That’s their point, and their glory. You only have one. You’re shallow.

And when you publish the review, trying so very hard to believe honesty is possible, a whole bundle of serious artists read it and think ‘That superficial, lazy, pompous, careless, shallow bitch got free tickets. And champagne. Which we paid for.’

Being a reviewer ain’t easy.

Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red