Monday, 30 May 2016

I'm Uneasy... Not Like Sunday Mornings...

Never let it be said that I can let things go. After the generous response to my article in which I bemoaned my inability to enjoy populist theatre, I've come up with more self-indulgent and pompous thoughts.

Can we blame media structures?

It was probably inevitable that I would blame other critics for my failures - I suggested that reviewing was becoming a synopsis with adjectives, with a lack of detailed argument.

To be fair, this isn't all criticism, and it is not just print criticism that does this. I ripped off a piece by Catherine Love last week, and it had plenty of detail, historical knowledge and sharp analysis. While I am sympathetic to the idea that the minimal space given to theatre criticism in newspapers can encourage 'potted reviews' (and that the pressure of on-line immediacy discourages expansive writing (TL;DR)), it does not necessarily mean that reviews are always cursory. I generalised from a specific instance because I have a vague idea that reviews are getting briefer.

So, the structures of the media are a factor, but not the whole story. What is regarded as acceptable as a review might be, though.

This might have been an attempt to address the moaning about critics and their role which kicked off after that Stage article. 

Who the hell are you to judge?

I admit that I have been guilty of lazy reviewing. If I wanted to, I could present a list of 'bad practices' taken from my own work. So, yeah, I'm a hypocrite. However, I do suffer from regular and painful abscesses, which can be regarded as a punishment. It's no excuse, but feel free to relish the thought of Mr Academic Big Shot here whining like a baby.

What's wrong with populism?

Nothing. Please don't apologise for liking something just because I don't find Diderot's theories in it. Part of my conflict comes from the disjuncture between my opinion and the majority response. I'm working out how to recognise that difference without surrendering my opinions or being patronising. 

I could point to my long and tedious history of criticism, and mention that I have very... distinctive tastes. For those who follow criticism, that's a bonus.  For those who don't, who surf onto my opinions, I'm a guy with a stick up his ass (see previous point).

No, what's wrong with populism?

It permits weak productions to get away with shoddy theatricality. I approve Our Ladies for not over-sexualising the young women (the costumes never went Britney, for example). But I also worry that the presentation of working class lives - and frankly, given that the play ends with one girl still in conflict over her sexual desire and another pregnant, pretty difficult lives - for entertainment is problematic. 

I'll wind myself into a knot here. I struggle with political theatre, and the self-awareness of Our Ladies' heroines is admirable... but I couldn't help but think: this is a play about young women who are being fucked over by an economic system that limits their options and aspiration. Yet, at the end, they sing some Bob Marley and every little thing's gonna be alright. 

These particular anxieties - theatre as valve for frustrations, the working class as a vaudeville routine - applies to serious agit-prop, too. And, like my relationship to 27 and Iphigenia in Splott, it is unresolved. 

Unlike populist theatre, I'm uneasy.

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