I haven't been well this week, which, coupled with being at work, has led to a bit of a slide in my productivity. Apologies. Anyway, here's a bunch of stuff. Edinburgh first, then some actual thoughts.
First up, from Andy Field’s excellent blog are the first two entries in his project to profile all the companies at Aurora Nova. As well as being brilliantly written, these offer a real insight into the companies discussed, far more than yer Fringe Programme 40-word blurbs can ever manage. Field has a real journalist’s eye for what makes an interesting story, so even if you’re not planning a visit to the Fringe, these make excellent reading. The first two are John Moran and Rotozaza.
Next, the welcome return of Chris Goode to his blog, offers the first (of many, one hopes) installment of his Edinburgh diaries. Typically uncompromising, he shares his thoughts on the first few shows that he’s seen on the Fringe.
Dan Bye gives characteristically well-crafted director’s-eye-view on Fringe foibles (my God, this is starting to read like Wogan or something) on his blog, while elsewhere, in the mainstream, Ian Shuttleworth's first few articles are up on the Financial Times site. I would especially recommend his review of Tim Crouch’s England, for is acute generosity (OK, I haven’t read it properly, because I want to come to the show fresh, so if that’s not strictly accurate, let me know, but the beginning and end seemed to point that way)
Also recommended is his trot through a worryingly large number of musicals on the Fringe – I hate to think how many hours of irrecoverable viewing time this represents. The article has the additional pleasure of an end gag which, it is hard to help suspecting, is better than any contained in the shows reviewed.
Back in the real world – of which I am still nominally a part, massive flu notwithstanding - Maxie Szalwinska takes a wider view (admittedly triggered by an Edinburgh show) wondering if theatres get too intimidated by big-name writers to ask for re-writes.
This is an interesting premise, and one which is as completely wrong as it is wholly right – that is to say, there are at least two other possible explanations to which she ought to give serious consideration, alongside her attractive thesis. She is right, that some theatres may suffer for having a literary manager who, in spite of many luminously positive qualities, may not have quite the temperament to front up to some of the biggest names in theatre and say: "Oi, Alan/Harold/Dave, rewrite please!" I am told that this was the conspicuous failing of one particular longstanding, high-profile literary manager of a major London theatre.
On the other hand, there are the two opposite positions to consider – rather than being too meek, a literary manager or department can equally be responsible for dramaturging a play to death. There is at least one London theatre with a terrible reputation for this - to the extent that writers now think at least twice before letting their scripts anywhere near it.
The other consideration is that is it hard to tell what any play is like until it is actually fully rehearsed and in front of an audience. If this weren’t so, why would all such elements be necessary for a play to properly exist? It is a cliché to observe that modern plays play better than they read – and indeed literary departments are often suspicious of the play that reads well. And this point leads on to the fact that taste is also deeply subjective. For all that Maxie didn’t seem to think much of Damascus (a pity, since I was looking forward to it), she might not be "right". Some people might think the last hour, which she didn’t go for, is terrific. I’m sure everyone can think of innumerable instances where if they’d listened to a critic, they’d have missed their favourite play of the last decade (Attempts on Her Life, anyone?), and probably a good few other examples of following someone’s recommendation to their eternal regret. Maybe Damascus is simply not cut out to be some people’s cup of tea. But, it is an interesting question to ask, nonetheless.
Finally, I notice that someone else has fallen into the trap of using the Guardian’s Right-to-Reply-type column. Having just blogged my disagreement with a critic, I’m not sure why I find this feature so questionable – probably because the real thing is only mainly used by/offered to(?) those who have been personally stung by a critical response, and so their arguments are not simply those of an interested bystander/co-commentator but of an injured party. That said, in this case, it does simply appear to be a case of an advanced withering of the writer's sense of irony. It is all very well to argue that "theatre can be instructive, challenging, empathetic and cathartic", but it does seem a bit grandiose to do so when your CV destroys your argument so thoroughly. Further down, the article continues:
"Many theatre companies, including ours, have been creating new productions, with new writing, which meet the demands of a modern audience: populist shows about contemporary issues, dealt with sensitively. The Naked Truth, for example, which is about to launch its third run in the provinces, centres on five normal women learning to pole dance; but its emotional core deals with subjects such as self-confidence, female sexuality and the social and psychological implications of breast cancer."
I really wish I thought this was satire.
Perhaps dignified silence is always the best way to respond to criticism. That said - I recently read a playwright's private email response to the reviews that his latest play had received. And his comments were as acute and as they were savage. They were also, crucially, private.
Edit: I notice that CV link has gone dead. Funny that.