Monday, 12 April 2010

Noises Off: Andrew Haydon is Unwell - Friday

Christ. I can’t believe this is the last issue. Jesus, the festival goes fast when you’re not there. Writing a final issue farewell piece for a festival I haven’t attended to people I haven’t met feels slightly surreal, but there it is. I think I’m going to miss this Festival more than any since my first in 1997. Back then, I assumed the experience was unrepeatable; that I’d had what was probably going to be the best week of my life, that I’d met all the most interesting people I was ever going to meet and had been as inspired as it was possible to be.

Turns out that 1997 was just the tip of the iceberg and apart from ruining the rest of my life – seriously, kids, if you can think of a single thing that you’d rather do than theatre, do it; theatre, and by extension theatre criticism, is rarely a lucrative occupation – NSDF has been a constant source of inspiration and a motor that has kept me going in a frequently frustrating, often arid field.

You’d think – indeed, I expected – that not actually being at the Festival this year I’d somehow feel less engaged and less involved in what was going on. Oddly, perhaps because I’ve been getting a reasonable amount of sleep and haven’t had to sit through all the shows, the reverse is true. Particularly with Noises Off.

In previous years, as editor, there’s always been a ludicrous amount of work just to make the magazine physically exist. Plus the selected shows to watch. Plus trekking around Scarborough getting from venue to venue. Plus having to eat and shower (Jesus, no showers in the Spa this year? Christ). So I tended to average about two hours sleep a day during the festival. As a result, I’d invariably develop a thousand-yard-stare, gradually lose my ability to speak coherently shortly after, forget how to write altogether by Tuesday or Wednesday and be a shuffling wreck of a human being by Friday night’s disco.

This sabbatical has given me a useful, much-needed long view on what Noises Off does, can do and should do. And it feels like it’s done it all this year. It’s a shame that I’ve missed developments in the Noffice itself. From what Claire, Ben and Phil have been telling me, it seems like our premises have coalesced into a kind of late-night venue not just for written creativity, but also for performative and sculptural excellence – the phrase NSDF Fringe has been bandied about. That sounds wonderful. I hope it carries on into next year. I’ve also missed a whole year of contributors and future staff members. I hope they/you all come back next year so I actually get to meet you.

Another great thing about not being editor this year has been actually getting to read the magazine for the first time – cover to cover – when it arrives in my inbox at breakfast. And what a worryingly good magazine it’s been. One of the best and most consistent runs that Noises Off has had in several years, I think. The covers have been funny; the comment section – now innovatively moved to the front really setting the tone of the magazine and making it much more engaging – has bristled with intelligent, timely stuff; the reviews, as I’ve commented several times before, have been invaluable for someone such as myself who hasn’t been seeing the shows; the Techie pages have been inspired; H. Jazz Lowe’s serial has been as engagingly bonkers as you could wish (“How come when we got locked in the Grand Hall that time you knew where to go? You took me up the back passage...” Ha!); and the back pages themselves have been far less in-jokey (perhaps I just worried too much) than in previous years – Not Real Arts Jobs in particular is a horribly perfect satire; and the credits, well, the credits lists have been enviably lengthy.

That said, no matter how great a review is, it’s no substitute for actually seeing a show. And it’s been fascinating to see what’s scored high on the critical radar. Until yesterday, it seemed like a close run thing between Phaedra’s Love and the Whitehouse Institute as to what had won most festgoers’ hearts (with an interestingly high number of dissenting voices for each piece as well), but the late addition of The Pillowman and By the Bog of Cats it looks like the Festgoer’s Prize might be the mostly closely fought it’s been in years. The news that BTBOC has been so highly rated is perhaps the biggest surprise of the week since the play got a real savaging when it first turned up in the West End starring Holly Hunter as Hester Swane, so I wish I’d seen that. And the Pillowman - reading the reviews reminded me what a great play it is. Hell, I wish I’d seen everything (with the possible exception of Our Country’s Good – please people, stop doing that play).

Because I don’t really have the faintest idea who has done what, it feels slightly ridiculous to do the traditional Ed’s thank-yous. Suffice it to say, that I’ve glowed just that little bit more every time I’ve read something by someone whose name I recognise from previous years, knowing that they’ve come back and written for us again, and hopefully helped out in the Noffice too (yes Jasmine, Will and Jon, I’m thinking of you in particular). It’s also been a pleasure to start recognising the work of repeat contributors this year (Phoebe Alexandra Bourke, Dan Hutton and Cassandra Fumi spring to mind). It is rather lovely seeing the work of the former “Monks of the Kitchen” transformed from cryptic Ivor-Benjamin-centric ramblings into incisive reviews and pertinent comment. Fascinating as well to see multi-faceted man of uncertain middle initials Richard KTC Watson slowly but surely taking over my role as Noises Off’s grumbler-in-chief.

Without being in the office at 6am, it’s hard to know who should be being congratulated for the remarkably early times I’ve been getting my copies of the finished magazine through, although seeing John Winterburn’s name high up in the credits and seeing no writing from him (that’s right, isn’t it?) in the mag., I suspect he’s due an especial plaudit for keeping the production process running as in previous years.

But my final thanks have to go to Ben, Claire and Phil (in strict alphabetical order) for, well, for everything. For keeping the magazine going (I never for a moment doubted you would) and proving that I’m little more than a confection whose absence scarcely registers, but also for keeping me in the loop all through the week. But more than that, for taking the magazine and its office and making it properly theirs. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up co-editorship just yet, but I know next year – assuming both Phil and Claire are returning and I’m not ill – it’ll be an editorial triumvirate of equals.

So, not that we met, but, until next year…

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