Tuesday 11 September 2007

Everybody loves a talk show

Just to compromise my journalistic integrity further, I’ve just been made producer of the Finborough Theatre’s excellent FinboroughForum strand of discussions. Expect more on related subjects in weeks to come. And fewer reviews of plays running at that particular theatre.

Strangely, it seems that chatshow time has kicked right off in theatres across town. More centrally, the Soho Theatre has just unveiled its own first series of discussions and interviews under its new Director of Talks, Observer literary editor Stephanie Merritt.

The initial outlook was not promising. On the 16th October we get the opportunity to see “Kerry Katona talk to the Guardian’s Hadley Freeman about her new book and celebrity culture”. Leaving aside the obvious nepotism involved in the choice of interviewer, one idly wonders how much Kerry Kantona actually knows about celebrity culture. Yes, she’s been in it (I was confronted with a picture of her sunbathing topless on holiday only the other day in the News of the World) and written a spill-my-guts autobiography, but does all that exposure mean she’ll have any insight whatsoever? It is almost tempting to find out.

A fortnight later on 30th we are offered “Rude Girls” in which “blogger Zoe Margolis (Girl with a One Track Mind) talks to former Erotic Review editor Rowan Pelling about sex and feminism.” - Former Erotic Review editor and Observer columnist, cynics might note. Again, despite the neatly zeitgeist-grabbing tone, is this really any more than tabloid dross served up with a garnish of middlebrow gloss? Wouldn’t it have been rather more interesting to have the blogger and Pelling on the panel, perhaps supplemented by Lucy Prebble - the excellent young playwright behind the forthcoming adaptation of the Belle de Jour blog for television - being interviewed by someone with much less natural sympathy for their project (Ann Widdecombe or Clare Short spring to mind)? As an aside, you’ll note that the TV adaptation has changed the title to The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. The reason? Apparently ITV didn’t think its audience would understand the French, let alone the allusion.

As it turns out, the overall programme is considerably better than that. Some of the events further along the schedule look at genuinely interesting questions, alongside a selection of neatly chosen literary and artistic interviews. Clearly Merritt is going to offer a real range and depth of field. From a quick perusal of the debates on offer, Playing With Fire (although, boo to David Edgar's crappy play and using it as a title) asks: “Why do writers and artists deliberately cause offence, even when it wins them death threats?” with a panel that promises Nicholas Hytner and Stewart Lee along with a panel of eminent playwrights and writers to discuss the issues. Which sounds like an excellent event.

In “African? Caribbean? What’s the big fuss?” Tiata Fahodzi’s Artistic Director Femi Elufowoju, jr leads a panel including Roy Williams and Bola Agbaje to discuss “the arguably delicate historical relationship which exists between African and Caribbean descendants living in Britain today”. Given that the subject has been the spur to exciting plays by both, and is an area of discussion which terrifies white media pundits, this should be invaluable.

Elsewhere, Paines Plough’s conversational short new play strand, Later, has resumed at the Trafalgar Studios. The next three are on Monday 17 September, Monday 8 October and Monday 15 October. The first is curated by Leo Butler, the current (excellent and lovely) tutor on the Royal Court’s Young Writer’s Programme, and boasts a line-up that hand-picks some of its star pupils featuring new work from Polly Stenham and Alexandra Wood along with Elinor Cook, Elise Hearst and Ben Ockrent. The following two dates promise Murder at Gobbler's Wood - a collaboration between Robin French, Dennis Kelly and Enda Walsh - along with work from Paines Plough’s Future Perfect 2008.

While from last night Hampstead theatre’s Daring Pairings runs until the end of the week with, again, a selection of collaborations between a wide range of writers, which again have an exciting and innovative look to them. I’m going tonight and tomorrow night on unprecedented Blog-press tickets and will report back tomorrow.

Finally, on the subject of chat shows, I was on last week's Culture Clash on 18 Doughty Street talking about the whole of the Edinburgh experience and the current Andrew Marr series on Radio 4 in case you missed (ha!) it.

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