A Manifesto; or Reflections on Writing about Theatre over a Decade

28 Jan

“Manifestos are written by revolutionaries as they wait for the next shipment of bullets. Oh, and by reviewers waiting for the next play.”

When I began this site in 2011, writing as the character Veronica Kaye, I wrote the above, and then continued:

Not that this will be a manifesto. But, then, I’m not a reviewer.

Which in two sentences [sort of] sums up my attitude.

I’m not in the slightest interested in judging plays. I’m interested in responding to them. I intend to write about what plays make me feel and what they make me think. I don’t intend to label them as failures or successes. Other writers can do that. And they will. And I don’t think it’s enough.

I hope to encourage the appreciation of plays as what I believe they are – sharings of our visions of the world.  They are not tricks that are done either well or not. Theatre is not Olympic diving.

Of course, theatre can be done horribly. But I’m not going to write about that. It’s tempting to be all Oscar Wilde for a moment and say that task can be left in far less capable hands than mine. But, it’s actually just a choice.

Theatre is not space flight. When you get it wrong, no-one dies. We just don’t get to visit new worlds.

[So I suppose it is like space flight.]”

Looking back, almost a decade on, I agree with most of what Veronica wrote (and she did write beautifully.)

But she was a young pup and, in her exuberance, I feel she was guilty of …. exuberance.

Now older, I find I differ with her attitude to both reviewers and artists. These differences are only subtle, but when we trip, it is not over Mt Everest but rather a mere crack in the pavement.

Veronica criticised how others wrote about theatre. I’m not much interested in this anymore. We must all work out our own salvation (and there is more than enough to be done on mine.)

Veronica also gave the impression she would talk about herself.  She did not (though her focus on the meaning of plays did surprise some people – especially if you didn’t think your play meant anything at all. Or didn’t want it to.)

I’ll continue with the same focus as Veronica, but I want to make clear that I’ll be analysing and discussing what the artist is doing, not using the production as a hook to hang my erudition.

I’m still not particularly interested in evaluating theatre. But I know some people like it. And I know it slips in anyway, unbidden, a sort of reflex action. After all, judgement is a natural response to Life  (“This coffee is awful!” and “What a beautiful day!”) and also a necessary one (“This society is unjust.”)

And, following Veronica, I’ll continue to write about artists with respect.

And her space flight analogy is charming (didn’t we all want to be astronauts when we were young?) but I’m going to rejig it, and make it something more down to earth.

I will consider a play as a gift.

And I’ll unwrap it.

And share it around.

Paul Gilchrist

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