Everyone on the theatrical blogosphere seems to have been writing in a more personal capacity recently. That should be a stupid thing to say. After all, we all know the drill on the necessary subjectivity of theatre criticism, commentary and indeed theatre-making: it's subjective; it's personal. What I mean is that people have been talking about themselves and their feelings more than usual recently.
The blog that started me thinking was Andy Field's incredibly sweet opening to a recent post on his excellent new blog where he admits that he is “chokingly, distractingly, giddily in love for maybe only the second time ever”. I was almost charmed enough by the youthful enthusiasm not to admit that my first thought was “that's one hell of a hostage to fortune”.
Elsewhere, in a post actually titled Personal, Alison Croggan candidly talks about her frustration with the more witless end of abuse and invective in the comments section under some of her recent reviews. In particular her review of Joanna Murray-Smith's Ninety.
Even Chris Goode's blog, which I've always admired for the openness with which Chris talks about his personal life - his frustrations and despairs - as frankly as he does his artistic opinions, seems to have been more personal of late, with tongue-in-cheek self-interviewing and details of room tidying.
What's interesting is that Chris's blog, of those that I manage to check reasonably regularly, also contains the highest number of recent obituaries. In his (currently) most recent post, he notes the deaths of David Foster Wallace and Reginald Shepherd. The same post flags up Thomas Moronic's ongoing account of the death of his mother's recent death. And it is still only just over two weeks two weeks since the death of Ken Campbell.
Meanwhile, on the 8th of September Guardian theatre blog, Lyn Gardner wrote a beautiful tribute to her mother, who died unexpectedly in August. Lyn suggests that “one of the functions of theatre is to help us to discover how to live even in the face of death, and that all great storytelling helps to heal”. And I’ve just realised I unwittingly made a similar claim in this morning’s review of Six Characters in Search of an Author, albeit at one remove.
That said, theatre isn’t a self-help manual. Indeed, theatre, much more than many other popular artforms, positively venerates melancholy and often revels in despair, from the grief and revenge of Clytemnestra through Hamlet up to Beckett’s lost souls. On the other hand, recent pieces like Slung Low’s Helium, Lucy Ellinson’s In State, Dan Rebellato’s Static and numerous Chris Goode pieces – Kiss of Life, Homemade and The Speed Death of Radiant Child immediately spring to mind – have all seemed to offer some kind of message of hope in the face of seemingly impossible pain.
Quite what the hope actually *is* remains obscure, but the very fact of their beauty suggests to me that rather than offering an “answer”, or even an alleviation of suffering, what links these pieces is the way that they suggest that in the terrible pain of bereavement, for the secular mind, art might just be able to present enough beauty and hope to confront the worst despair, while at the same time not seeking to “fix” it.