Friday, 5 September 2014

Shorts: in praise of... The Vile Blog

[Scottish independents]

This week, I’ve finally got down to writing my chapter for Duška Radosavljević’s book about theatre criticism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my chapter is about online criticism and “the blogosphere”. Predominantly in the UK, which mostly means England, which in turn, seems to have mostly meant London. I’m constantly aware of that thing where someone says “the UK” and fails to have quite the epic sweep of knowledge that such a generalisation would ideally entail, and how much it winds up theatremakers. Hell, even saying “British theatre is/isn’t such-and-such” usually alienates some bunch of even London-based makers.

One argument I/we often hear is: “you should travel more”. And I agree, we could and should (although travel and accommodation expenses are still a thing that needs to be thrashed out). However, much more useful would be *more people writing about their home towns and cities*. Yes, a lot of critics seem to move to London as part of that apparently inexorable, unstoppable vicious circle of “that’s where all the work is, so that’s why we have to move there to make our work” which is slowly but surely making London unaffordable and uninhabitable. Part of me thinks we should have an enforced dispersal around the country of artists and critics (not to mention affordable, efficient railways). However, in the absence of this, I think local criticism is vital. It would be vital even if some critics based elsewhere came up/down/over to see the work from time to time. Because I don’t think there’s a substitute for being local to a place.

Which is where The Vile Blog comes in. Written by Gareth K. Vile (he promises it’s his real name; the pun is just the sort of happy coincidence one would kill for), who’s the Theatre Editor for Scotland’s The List magazine. At the moment, Vile is doing a long survey of Glasgow’s performing arts scene. Shamefully, this blog is relatively new to me (I think we friended on Facebook earlier this summer and I’ve been reading since then, albeit intermittently, because of work and Edinburgh and me trying not to read FB the whole day through), but it’s been running since 2011, so there’s also a massive archive which I’m looking forward to checking out.

But the stuff at the moment feels like the best possible use of a blog. Reading back through recent posts, there’s a real clarity of purpose and an evocative sense of place that I find really exciting. Like the sort of thing I was talking about in that piece about Melody Maker and reviewing European theatre I wrote in Portugal. Over the course of a sustained series of posts (post-Edinburgh Fringe, pre-new season), Vile is quite methodically going through a bunch of questions he’s got about what (if anything) makes the work being made in Glasgow Glaswegian. There are also brilliant little sketches of the theatre ecology, with posts about the venues centrally, in the West End and on the city’s Southside. And, most recently, some really pertinent questions about how we do criticism at all.

It’s really exciting to discover a new(-ish) blog that both speaks to some stuff that you’re always thinking about anyway (criticism, how to) with some original insights, refreshing the dialogues you’re already involved in; at the same time introducing you to an almost entirely unfamiliar geography and ecology. (I mean, I’ve been to Glasgow twice, and I’ve seen the work of a fair few Glasgow-based artists in both Edinburgh and London, so it’s basically all new/s to me.) It’s also really reassuring that two of Vile’s biggest touchstones – which he talks about in a Scottish response to Lyn Gardner’s “Why UK theatre should look beyond its borders” piece (making the central point: “what’s with this ‘UK’ thing? Scotland already does...”) – are Les Ballets C de la B and Forced Entertainment. That these two groups are his go-to references contextualises his tastes perfectly and establishes the fact that I now totally trust his judgement. (This in itself also possibly underlines something else about the importance of international touring.)

So, yes, a rich, vital portrait of a theatre scene, namechecks of a whole host of books I’ve not read which sound really interesing, and fine, lucid prose; not to mention a load of older reviews that he’s currently uploading in the present, giving an interesting sense of pinging back and forth across Glasgow’s recent performance history, and the growth of the scene that Vile is considering. Exactly what you want from a theatre blog, in short. Great.

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