24 Nov

The title could be part of some meta-theatrical stage direction:

(End of Act One. Lights come up on stunned theatre reviewer. She Leaves.)

I didn’t. I stayed for the whole performance. And found it quite fascinating.

Recently, however, I have fallen into the dreadful habit of avoiding writing about shows. (And it’s not that I’m just following my mother’s advice: if you can’t say anything nice…….)

I even received an email from a publicist, who politely asked whether I was ever Ever EVER going to write about the show I’d attended.

I ignored her email. I went to other shows. I didn’t write about them either.

Eventually I wrote this reply:

“Dear Polite Publicist,

I’ve thought a lot about your show. 

To be honest, it wasn’t my cup of tea, so I would prefer not to write about it. 

I appreciate my response is utterly subjective, and as you might know from my previous writings, somewhat idiosyncratic. 

I wish the artists involved all the best.

I try to write about all the work I’m invited to, but occasionally I think it’s best to remain silent. As a working dramatist myself, there have been several occasions where I have wished a critic simply hadn’t written, rather than allowing their alienation from (or incomprehension of) the play’s themes to be expressed as shallow negativity about the production and the writing.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Yours, V”

But I don’t do traditional criticism. (You know the type: Armed with cliches, and addicted to hyperbole, you relentlessly evaluate. Evaluate the acting. Evaluate the script. Evaluate the lighting. Evaluate the costumes. Hey, evaluate the seats if you’re on a roll.)

I don’t do that type of writing, so my excuse won’t cut it.

I write responses. I write about what the play made me think about.

Leaves by Steve McGrath is about three men hitting fifty. That’s the story – if that’s the right word for this extended sitcom.

Yes, they’re hitting the ‘Big Five  O’.

That phrase – ‘the Big Five O’ – was used fifty times in the play. (OK, I’m falling back on traditional critical methods). But at least I didn’t say the phrase was used ‘Five O’ times. I just said the word.

Which is my point. Diversion.

Earlier, I used the term meta-theatrical, and it’s this very element that made this piece so intriguing.

Steve McGrath’s character at one moment avoids a difficult topic with a quip. He does it a lot. But this time he openly acknowledges it’s exactly what he’s just done.

Which seems to me what the whole play does. Avoids serious issues.

I turn fifty this week. (Seriously.) The issues of the characters are not mine. Unless it be the inability to honestly face what really matters.


I grew up wanting to believe humour was subversive. I wanted to think it mocked the grown-ups, indicted the power holders, toppled the pompous.

But I’ve come to realize that the opposite, and many would say the obvious, is also true.

As well as subversion, humour can be diversion. Don’t think about this, don’t address that, just look over there!

The play has some excellent one liners and it’s thought provoking for that reason.

Ironically (or not), the stand out performance moment is McGrath on film. (I can’t tell you more, because of the spoiler rule.) The film projections that are peppered through out this production have the effect of making what happens on stage appear even less real, even more off the point.

There’s also inordinate talk of women. None of whom are present. But then none of the three male characters really are either. These characters are overgrown children. A question: Does comedy require that?

But the more pressing question is, at fifty, or indeed at any age, have we acknowledged what matters, and are we engaging with it?

In its paradoxical and playful way, this production left me with some serious thoughts about being funny. (And so inspired the following bad pun.)

Humour as diversion. Entertainment. Come in to the theatre. Leave your troubles outside. Enjoy.

Humour as subversion. Exittainment. You’ve seen the show. You’ve been empowered. Now leave. And change the world.

Veronica Kaye


Leaves by Steve McGrath

King Street Theatre til Nov 29


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