Hello. If this is your first festival, you’ve almost certainly never met me. Annoyingly, you won’t be meeting me this week either, because I’m not at the Festival. I was meant to be, oh yes. I was meant to be editing this very magazine, in fact. If you look at the Noises Off page of the programme, you’ll see my picture and biog along with Phil’s and Claire’s. Unfortunately, instead of editing Noises Off, this week I’m busy being seriously ill, or at least starting to recover from a serious illness, the gruesome details of which I shall spare you (although the astute amongst you may be able to discern the nature of this illness from a subtle series of clues left by my bastard colleagues in yesterday’s magazine :-).
This is the first Festival I’ve not been at since I first attended in 1997. Back then we had a Tory government, no one had a mobile phone, Google didn’t exist, theatre criticism was still practised by theatre critics, and, I realise to my horror, today’s 18-year-olds were only five. So, for potentially all the time you’ve been in full-time education, dear reader, I’ve been coming to NSDF. You can imagine, then, that it’s a bit of a wrench not being there (or here, from where you’re standing) this year. So, you’ll forgive me for not letting it go altogether.
With any luck, I’ll be being emailed a PDF of each day’s Noises Off so I can see what’s going on, and get a sense of how the Festival’s going. I’ve just read yesterday’s issue cover-to-cover (I recommend you do the same, although, you probably won’t get time until the train home) and it’s cheered me up like nothing on earth. The cheerful lunacy, wit and – most strikingly from a distance – the real buzz of optimism and anticipation. I always found those first issues to be a real bugger to put together, but this struck me as one of the best in years, even if reading Phil Mann’s first piece was worryingly seeing my own obituary.
Anyway, the sort-of purpose of this column – if it turns out to have a purpose at all – is, I guess to provide a kind of informed outside eye on the festival. It’s always been something that, as editor, I wished I had more of – that ability to sit outside as well as inside the festival bubble; the ability not to get sucked so far into rows, debates and even, on occasion, witch hunts, and not to lose a sense of perspective. Now I’ve got just about all the distance I could possibly wish for, and I’m quite interested to see what I get from the week following it only on (virtual) paper and what use, if any, my contributions will be.
Anyway, as I haven’t read anything about any of the plays yet – yes, I’ll have a stab at reviewing them too – I’ll suggest a different perspective on Jon Brittain’s “not being a dick” feature.
Jon makes nothing but sensible points in his article, especially in relation to writing reviews here at the festival. And, as a critic, I tend to pride myself on not being cheap or flippant at practioners’ expense. On the other hand, it is your primary duty to communicate precisely what you experienced – and ideally in a way that is entertaining to your readers, not one that is comforting to the artistes. So, by way of counter example, I leave you with a recent review by me which was written for and duly published by Time Out...
The Importance of Being Earnest – Upstairs at the Gatehouse
* (one star)
Thanks to an electrical cock-up, the press night of this production was turned into an open dress rehearsal, so all that follows should be read in the light of ‘mitigating circumstances’. This perhaps explains why the actors were wandering around under lighting states akin to a disco Battenberg cake – pink, yellow, pink, yellow – for example.
Interestingly, this is a staging of Wilde’s four-act, first draft of the play. On this showing, it is a resounding vindication of the editor’s craft. However, since this production also suffers from eccentric performances and a deeply ordinary staging, it is hard to say whether the script is entirely to blame.
Neither Marcus McSorley nor Oliver Fabian have anything like the pert charm needed to pull off Jack and Algernon, let alone comic ability, while Francis Cuka’s decision to play Lady Bracknell as a woman deep in thought, as if struggling to remember any of her lines, seems misguided at best.
Gemma Harvey turns in by far the best performance of the night as Cecily, while Louise Houghton gradually warms up as Gwendolen, despite playing the entire first scene as if on the verge of orgasm. But neither have enough stage-time to rescue the three hour production from the leaden boys and quotidian supporting cast.
Dress rehearsal or not, it’s difficult to imagine much more life ever being breathed into this creaky production. Avoid.