Archive | Musings RSS feed for this section

What is the role of the reviewer?

15 Oct

I like that this question is being asked. It gives me the opportunity to point out that it’s a question that panders to elements in our society that support repression.

(Fireworks being far easier than thought, I’m being deliberately provocative and downright simplistic.)

If the question was rephrased as “What can a reviewer achieve?” it would be more indicative of an open society.

Choose the view

                       Choose the view

But the question “What is the role of the reviewer?” presupposes a concrete answer. It implies that there is something definite reviewers are supposed to do and if you don’t do it you are somehow doing something wrong. I missed that memo.

The question also implies that writing about theatre somehow needs a justification – as if there were something inherently suspicious about sharing ideas about art.

I know that reviewers sometimes do use the word role. They use it in sentences like ‘I see my role as educating both the public and artists.’ Being an annoying pedant, I like to point out it is not their role, it is their aim. And it’s a laudable aim, and one I might share if I thought I had any knowledge worth passing on.

But I am troubled with an aim being described as a role. There’s an assertion of authority behind that word role. It suggests that a personal aim is somehow sanctioned. But by who? By society? By the God of Theatre? By your editor?

If it’s merely the last of these, it might be better described, not as a role, but as a job description.

Veronica Kaye

Theatre Red is Reopen for Business

13 Oct

Except, of course, it’s not a business. The whole purpose of this blog is to treat art as something other than a commodity.

I’m back in Sydney and looking forward to writing again about theatre – but I’m not particularly interested in evaluating it.

I’ll continue with my usual (some may say) self-indulgent approach. I will not grade theatre. I’ll write about what theatre makes me think about and feel.

Yes, I know, what an outrageously inappropriate response to art.

And a point of clarification: Veronica Kaye is not a pseudonym. My creator, Paul Gilchrist, doesn’t hide behind my name so he can write nasty reviews. I don’t write nasty reviews. Don’t believe me? Read everything I write and see. Please.

I am a character. I am not my author. For starters, I’m far wiser than him.

Paul being less wise than me.

Paul being less wise than me

But can an ‘imagined’ character write about ‘real’ events?

Of course! What’s stopping me? (I mean apart from some really disturbing elements in our culture, like our love affair with authority, our fear of diversity and our deep, deadly conservatism.)

So here we go again………

Veronica Kaye

“Approval and Validation”

25 Nov

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that whenever a playwright writes a good play, she will be vigorously pursued by prestigious theatre companies.

“My dear Mr Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Prestigious Theatre Company has a new artistic director?”

Mr Bennet replied he had not.

“Apparently,” returned she, “he is very interested in new Australian work.”

Mr Bennet remained silent. His wife took this as invitation to continue.

“Interested in new Australian work! What a fine thing for our girls!”

“How so? How can it affect them?”

“Mr Bennet, how can you be so tiresome? You know they are all playwrights. This new artistic director will no doubt want to produce their plays.”

Mr Bennet returned to his book.

“Now I’m the first to admit,” continued Mrs Bennet, “I find Lizzy’s plays a little confusing. Other people find them amusing, but to my mind, she never seems to be saying what she really means.”

“It’s referred to as irony,” Mr Bennet stated flatly.

“I know that!” replied Mrs Bennett.

“Of course you do, dear” said Mr Bennet, even more flatly.

Satisfied, Mrs Bennet continued. “And Mary’s plays are so wordy, and I can’t quite understand them, but they’re very clever, I’m sure. And Lydia’s plays are skittish, the work of an immature artist, but they were good enough for Short and Sweet. And Jane, quiet unassuming Jane; she’s always done the right thing. Who wouldn’t want to produce her plays?”

– from the manuscript of the (unpublished) Jane Austen novel Approval and Validation 


Sometimes you just gotta to do it yourself .

You can write a damn good play and it still mightn’t get produced.

Maybe it’s political. And I don’t mean who owes who, or who’s competing with who, or even who’s sleeping with who. I mean political.

Every play is an attempt to convince the audience to see the world in a particular way. Every play is an attempt to affect the world. Your plays will be put on by people who share your vision of the world. And, if there already are a whole lot of people who share your vision, you probably wouldn’t have bothered writing the play in the first place.

So be prepared to do it yourself. And be proud of it.

Veronica Kaye

Are literary awards evil?

4 Nov

I was recently asked this question by a close friend, Paul Gilchrist of subtlenuance.

Well-meaning but naïve, Paul shares the qualities of many dramatists. He has a taste for hyperbole, exacerbated by a lack of a consistent moral compass.

Apparently, subtlenuance is soon to administer the inaugural Silver Gull Play Award. This award will recognize a play by a local writer that explores philosophical and political themes. It will be sponsored by the wonderful Buzz from Sydney.

In the hope of intelligent conversation, I asked Paul why the idea of an award bothered him.

He said it didn’t.

And then he referred me to my previously published comments about competition in art.

(Which can be found here and here )

Contemplating evil

Contemplating evil

Most working writers are ambivalent about awards. For them, competition is at best a distraction and at worse destructive. Yet they’ll take the prestige, and the money. They know there’s little danger of being spoilt.

To me, it’s blatantlyobvious why subtlenuance would administer such an award. (See what I did then?)

subtlenuance focuses on political and philosophical theatre.

A clear-eyed pragmatist would say they’re simply attempting to raise the status of their preferred genre.

(A mean-spirited pessimist would say that before promoting intelligent theatre to Australian audiences, those audiences need to be made aware that such theatre is actually possible.)

I wish subtlenuance luck.

Veronica Kaye

Are you a real artist?

5 Sep

Are you a real artist? It’s a burning issue.

Do this fun quiz for the definitive answer.


1.You think what’s wrong with Australian theatre is

a) You’re not in enough of it.

b) People you want to sleep with aren’t in enough of it.

c) Everything.


2. You believe there should be more funding for the arts because

a) You are an artist.

b) Art is a good thing.

c) There’s nothing better to spend the money on.

d) It’s what the majority of the population demand, and answering that demand will quash potentially dangerous civil unrest.


3. You think playwrights are

a) Better when not Australian.

b) Better when not alive.

c) In need of workshops, development, dramaturgy, or failing all this, simply best tied and gagged and locked in a broom closet.

d) Failed reviewers.


4. You think the average Australian should see more theatre because

a) You don’t like the average Australian.

b) If you have to, why shouldn’t they?

c) The average Australian spends their money on the things they enjoy, which is just selfish, because artists would like more money to spend on the things they enjoy.


5. You say artists should always be paid because

a) You are an artist.

b) You are owed money by an artist.

c) You like to ignore the fact that what artists say may (perhaps even should) offend the people with the money.


6. You create art

a) For the approval of your peers.

b) To impress strangers whose values you probably don’t even share.

c) Because you didn’t get enough love in your childhood.

d) All of the above (boy, are you really screwed up).


7. You love theatre because of

a) The lights.

b) The grease paint.

c) The excitement.

d) Your fundamental immaturity.


8. You call yourself an artist because

a) Someone has to.

b) You think it will make people want to sleep with you.

c) No-one wants to sleep with you and it’s a form of consolation.

d) You make art.


9. You hate quizzes like this because

a) You don’t have a sense of humour.

b) You don’t actually like dissenting voices (and therefore the dramatic form)

c) You’re the artist, and you’ll do the challenging around here, thank you very much.

Microsoft Word - Document1


For every ‘a’ give yourself 1, for every ‘b’ give yourself 2, for every ‘c’ give yourself 3, and for every ‘d’ give yourself 4.

If you scored over 36  then you can’t count, and so are perfectly suited to the intellectually fluffy and financially disastrous world of theatre. Congratulations, you are an artist!

If you scored under 9 then you didn’t answer all the questions, which suggests you are lazy, or willful. So, congratulations, you are an artist!

If you scored somewhere between 36 and 9 then you took this all way too seriously. And the confusing of the trivial with the important is a promising quality. So, congratulations, you are an artist!


Veronica Kaye

What is wrong with Australian Theatre?

18 Jun












Can theatre change the world?

8 Apr

Recently a friend told me if you want to change the world you need to do something more immediate than theatre.

On one level, I have no argument with this. Direct political action and social service are indisputably more important than art. Don’t write a play about the homeless. Volunteer for a soup kitchen.

But on another level, I think my friend’s well meaning comment is only half the truth.

Firstly, our values need to come from somewhere. I believe one place they spring is from our stories.

I believe we should produce theatre that shares beautiful and empowering ways of looking at the world. As I’ve said elsewhere, we need to make theatre that reminds the miserable of happiness and the happy of misery.

We should aim to produce theatre that adds something useful to the cultural toolbox. (Of course, this can be done in many ways besides theatre. Perhaps to have the biggest cultural impact you should create an internet meme.)

Even by doing nothing we have an impact

Even by doing nothing we have an impact

Perhaps this is an overly sophisticated view. Perhaps we are noble savages, born perfect and corrupted by society. In which case, theatre (and all art) is at best an unpleasant noise, and at worse an inducement to evil.

Which leads me to my second objection to my friend’s well meant comment.

I think everything we do changes the world. Or perpetuates it. The world is made by us. Or, at least, an enormous part of it – the human part. (And increasingly large parts of the non-human world, too. There’s an old joke: everyone complains about the weather, but no-one does anything about it. Human-made climate change has stripped the giggle out of that one.)

Our choices matter. We should choose to be – and to encourage – curiosity and joy, compassion and tolerance. And we should do it in the way we talk, how we vote, in what we choose to eat, how we spend our money, and in the making of our art.

Veronica Kaye

Subverting the Review

4 Apr

Recently some of my theatre-making friends have been complaining about the standard of reviewing in this city. Not that they’ve been marching in the street about it. And I doubt they’ve sent off any terse emails. They’ve just been grumbling over their post-show drinks.

They’re not complaining that the reviews are unfavourable. They’re complaining that they’re badly written.

What makes a good review?*

Now, that’s a good question. Who gets to determine that?

Now, where are those pigeons?

Now, where are those pigeons?


It’s commonly said, that in their judgement of productions, reviewers can be neither right nor wrong. It’s accepted that their evaluations are subjective.

Clearly, this ‘problem’ also faces anyone attempting to define what a good review should be.

And let me go further. If I was to go to a play determined that it should fit certain parameters or structures I’d be missing the whole point of the creative endeavour. And that, I believe, is also true of writing about theatre.

Theatre is magic making, life giving, world creating. An insistence that reviews be a certain thing is a refusal to play. Don’t be the shy kid who won’t join in.

Veronica Kaye


*I guess they could start by being literate. Though I’m not sure who gets to determine that either.

Natural Born Producers

3 Apr

Hey writer, who is the best person to produce your play? You.

Sure, if Andrew Upton calls, let it go to message bank, and get back to him at your convenience.

Or if some 22 year old with more enthusiasm than ability wants to stage your play in a car park in Fairfield, go for it. (It’s difficult to see you as serious writer if you won’t help mount a production of your play that could be truly awful.)

So why are you the best producer? Because you care. Because you want it to happen. Because you wrote the play to be seen.

gilchrist ship

I’m not dismissing the people with real skills and experience in the field of producing. If they want to do it, you’d be a fool to stop them. But while you are waiting for that stampede of interest…..

The relative exclusion of the writer from the process is a historical accident. Sophocles was there. Shakespeare was there. Moliere was there. The current division of labour is very bourgeois, and has gone hand in hand with an obsession with status. (Writing that is worthwhile challenges established values, so a writer seeking status is as absurd as a spy wanting recognition.)

But what about the money? I hope you make an absolute heap. And then distribute it to the people who need it. But the obsession to get paid for your work is another bourgeois cultural phenomenon. As is calling it ‘work’. We all need to eat, but if you value your voice only for the cash you can make out of it you’ve allowed it to be reduced to just another commodity. Would government funding or private sponsorship have made the Sermon on the Mount better?

‘But if it was any good wouldn’t someone pay me for it?’ That attitude is loud and clear in our society, and perfectly designed to silence dissent.

Why did you write the play in the first place? If you wrote it in the hope of gaining fame or wealth it’s probably not worth being produced. Our society has heard quite enough of that voice.

But if you wrote it in order to share a vision of life, don’t stop now.

If you wrote it to remind the miserable of happiness, or the happy of misery, don’t stop now.

Veronica Kaye

Reviewing plays I haven’t seen

6 Feb

Recently I received a polite inquiry from a publicist asking whether I intended ever writing a response to her current show.

I replied, politely, I did not.

She asked, more politely, why not?

I replied, dumping the pretense of politeness, that I’d never been invited.

And then I got to thinking, why not write up the show anyway?

My good friend Paul Gilchrist, from subtlenuance, tells me that one of his productions was written up by a reviewer who hadn’t seen the show. (Apparently it was four or five years ago, but it was a slow night at the box office, and that being such a rare occurrence in independent theatre, Paul remembers the evening well.) Two comp tickets were held at the door, but were never claimed. It happens. Hard to believe though it is, sometimes events in people’s lives take precedence over theatre. Paul quietly wished the absent reviewer well, and then forgot all about it. And two days later the review came out. It was entirely positive. And entirely gleaned from other reviews. There seemed little reason to complain.

Now, if other writers can do that, why not me?

Paul not attending a show

Paul not attending a show

After all, the whole business takes time. Firstly, there’s the inconvenience of having to actually go to the theatre. Then you have to sit still, and relatively quietly, for what can seem an age. And then, afterwards, there’s the bothersome process of arranging a series of cliches into a review.

Many reviewers minimise the time cost by composing their responses quickly, say on their iPhones on the way home in the cab. (Not an option for me, because of my professional integrity, and the fact my phone is only one model after the tin can and string.)

For me, writing up a 90 minute play takes longer than 90 minutes. And unfortunately, as I enjoy writing, if something’s gotta give, it’s going to be attendance at the show.

Of course, I could write my response during the show, and hence kill two birds with one stone. (An unintended advantage of this would be that I’d never write spoilers again, as the usher is going to be asking me to leave while I’m still describing the set.)

However, there is a problem that might arise from writing my response during the performance: I like to proofread my work by reading it aloud, and I fear this might adversely affect the audience’s enjoyment of the play, as the comparison is unlikely to be favourable.

So it’s probably best I stay at home.

One benefit of not going to shows before I write is that I’ll no longer be bothered by tiresome and trivial scruples, like accuracy or fairness.

I also won’t be at risk of actually being affected by the production. (There is a limited to how effectively the shield of critical judgement can protect you. From being moved. Or touched. Or challenged. Or confronted. Or accused. Or convicted.)

But perhaps the greatest benefit is that I won’t have to wait for an invitation.

Veronica Kaye