Monday 1 December 2014

Shorts: big paws

[self indulgent rambling]

Hello. Sorry. Bit more of a hiatus than I intended. Basically, my laptop was in a terrible state, so I took it to in to be mended. (Currys PC World, if you’re curious.)
“About a week” they cheerily assured me.
“Give it a few more days,” they suggested a week later, “we’ve had to send for parts.”
“They’ve sent us the wrong replacement part” they added. A week later.
After about a month they decided the laptop was unfixable.
That was about the middle of November.
So, now I’ve finally got a new laptop (and thank Christ the first one was covered by a warranty or I’d still be laptopless).

But surely I could have got hold of another laptop? Just borrowed one for the duration of my laptop’s alleged convalescence. Well, yes, I probably could. And in a couple of cases definitely *should* have done. But, at the same time as my laptop went into decline, I think I’d hit that theatre fatigue wall. I mean, whatever the Mark Shentons of this world say about theatre criticism (and he’s not wrong; as a profession, the mainstream does appear to be more unstable than it was even two years ago) it is basically the best job in the world. You just get to watch your favourite artforms non-stop. For free. And all you have to do in return is say what a thing was like. (Yes, ok, bit more complicated than that in reality, but not much more.)

But you do have to love it. And possibly one of the great unspoken problems of the profession – at least in its current configuration – is the (generally self-generated) expectation that one tries to see *as much as possible*. In real terms, that’s at least five nights a week in the theatre, more likely six, and probably chuck in the odd catch-up matinee too, if you’re feeling especially conscientious. And, days and days spent writing (especially if, like me, you’re an idiot who writes too much). Now, if you’re being paid well to do that, I daresay the cash will see you through those weeks when you’re *not really in the mood*. But I’m not even sure that’s a good thing. After all, who wants to read the grudging reports of a salaryman? But anyway, *being paid too much* isn’t really a problem for me. There’s also an awful lot in the world that *isn’t* theatre. And a real problem of the way that the work of theatre criticism is set up is that you don’t get to see so much of anything else. Let alone having much by way of time for a normal social life.

So, yes, at the same time my laptop was dying, my enthusiasm was not all it could have been. Which, when you’re frequently volunteering to be subjected to 2hr30 shows is Not A Good Thing. Yes, I realise all this whinging is #firstworldproblems of a particularly privileged sort. “That we should have such troubles!” I hear my justifiably irritated reader say. But, well, while this is ostensibly a choice for me, it seemed like a good idea to use the opportunity of the dying laptop to take a kind of (longer than intended) sabbatical. To cut right down on the amount of theatre I saw. Watch other things. Do different stuff. Read some books. To not do writing until I was figuratively chewing my hands off in frustration at not having a laptop on which to write.

I sometimes get the vague sense that some in the profession believe one of the critic’s chief tools is their jadedness. How they won’t just fall for enjoying something like a member of the public who hadn’t been the the theatre every other night that week would. A kind of snobbery, looking down upon the poor plebs who just go to the theatre because they like it.

Well, I think that’s balls. And it’s the kind of attitude which ensures that theatre criticism is increasingly viewed as a faintly unpleasant and unnecessary footnote in the history of newspaper publishing. After all, one of the best things about coming back to the internet after not having really read any theatre reviews for over a month was having a whole month’s worth of Megan Vaughan’s back catalogue to plough through. I know I’ve praised Meg to the skies already this year, but it struck me especially, looking through five or ten of her pieces in quick succession, that her model of largely only engaging with stuff that she’s really loved (or occasionally *really hated*), pays incredibly rich dividends. Not least in terms of how it leaves you feeling about the art in question. There’s a lot to be said for that level of positive energy. And, as anyone who’s ever written about theatre knows, the review that just says “Meh. It happened. It was fine” is the dullest thing to write ever.

So, on balance, I thought it would be more useful if I starved myself of theatre for a while, until I was really dying to see it again.

As it happens, I did see a bit of stuff; an early casualty of my laptop’s death were reviews of two Cardiff shows – Adventures in the Skin Trade and Romeo and Juliet – which I’ll post shortly. There was also Ostermeier’s Ein Volksfiend and Nicholas Stemann’s rehearsed reading of Elfreide Jelinek’s (somewhat underpowered) thing about the financial crisis at the Lyric, which I think between them might have served to crystallise my feeling that I needed a bit of time off (In short, “yeah, fine, whatevs” didn’t really feel like nearly enough of a response, and little else seemed possible). Later, I also caught the Almeida’s rather lovely Our Town, and the Katie Mitchell double bill: 2071 and The Cherry Orchard. (For which I paid for my own tickets, and if I’d had a laptop, would have written about straight after. Probably. Still might. That Cherry Orchard was pretty neat. Ditto Our Town (which closed on Saturday. Nothing like having one’s finger on the pulse)). Beyond that, it felt for most of the time I was off like nothing very much happened that I couldn’t live with having missed. I do wish I’d seen the Australian Wild Duck and the JMK Young Vic Far Away, and in the normal run of things it would have been good to see Longwave, Confirmation, Nothing and Spine again. John at the NT also sounds worth a look (if only because it made Quentin Letts so unhappy – the only review which made me want to see it immediately), and I was vaguely interested by Henry IV at the Donmar. But, by and large, the misses seemed manageable. Which, let’s face it, is either a bit of a worry, or indicative of how jaded I’d got (Since I’m now officially un-jaded, and still think that, we might conclude Autumn doesn’t seems to have been exactly a bumper season (especially if you saw nearly all the good bits in Edinburgh).)

Elsewhere, coming back to social media (and the news) after largely ignoring it except to occasionally reassure people I wasn’t dead, it seems Britain has now pretty much finished going to Hell; in the sense of “has arrived at its destination”. Anyway, enough of this for now. Here’s a cheery song to start your day...

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