Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fixing the Moment: Fringe Diary on my Birthday part 2

What do works-in-progress, student theatre companies, religious rituals and my sex life have in common?

None of them ought to be given star ratings.

I know that I appear to have something of a hard line on this matter, and that a thousand youth companies will reply that their work is of a professional standard.

But I tend to take people at their word, and I have been told that youth theatre is as much about process as the product, and approaching a work purely for the purposes of review has to deny the process. I am working on a strategy, which will, of course, change the course of criticism. In the meantime, I shall write about youth theatre and not review it.

The same goes for works in progress. While I am suspicious of venues that charge for what amounts to a vague experiment in how a play might be received (although some of these WIPs are well on the way to being full on productions), they do give an insight into a working process and open up discussions. And when it is The Traverse's Breakfast plays, they give the audience a bacon roll and coffee, so I can forgive.

However, a review with star ratings and what-not presumes that a performance can be observed as fixed: in order to be a guide to audiences, it has to assume that future performance will be similar, allowing for shifts in audience and venue composition. This is easy enough when a production is fixed (the revivals of Scottish Ballet's Romeo and Juliet use the same choreography, scenography and even the dreadful videos which they could really do with dropping), but when a work is in a state of flux, any response is more tentative and conditional.

Delving into devised theatre, like Sister or Party in the USA, and even solo shows that do have a script and very tight set of cues like Naked in Alaska, the run of the show will be on a journey and change in some way between performances. Sister, for example, has had several manifestations and each one has adapted to new circumstances.

This is why the Breakfast Plays at The Traverse will be getting discussion not reviews.

What do my sex life and the theatre of the absurd have in common?

They only exist in theory.

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