A little post script to the Hytner/Dead Whit Males debate, especially after Nick Hytner withdrew his comments, but told critics to stop going to the theatre quite so much. And just to reiterate, that whilst I agree with a more representative media, I don’t junk people because of their age, race or experience, nor do I think directors should get into a strop when one of their shows doesn’t go down quite as well as they had hoped with the press.
Isn’t it funny how some people in the theatre (particularly those writing and directing) are very happy to spend all their time in the medium, yet people who go to the theatre often (in this case the critics), are bad and should get a life. Of course all these theatre people have full and rich lives and the critics are assumed to have no life beyond attending shows at 7.30pm most evenings (how awful!).
Why is it so bad or abnormal to love the theatre (unless of course you work in it)? Do certain theatre folk just want an uninformed public, without critical assessments, to occasionally dip into their work (and presumably like it or else). Critical though, deep knowledge, passion and expertise are eschewed in favour of ‘yeah, it was quite good’ emanating from the masses. Really there is little difference from the mass market who goes to a musical an loves it and one who goes to a ‘higher brow’ show, most of them are occasional visitors to the theatre, who have paid their money and will have a good night out (when I was at Cymbeline recently a posh group of ‘intellectuals’ pontificating on the show they saw a couple of months ago, couldn’t even understand the basic plot of the play). I’m not saying all occasional theatregoers are stupid or ignorant, just that from my experience people who’ve invested in a night out on the surface are determined to have a good time.
This trouble with critics arises because directors are becoming too concerned with what they think, and treating theatre as a battle ground. Directors should put on good shows (what an insight), they should understand the world we live in, and artistic directors should programme work that attracts diverse audiences and expands the form. But non of those things involve getting involved with critics and traducing them, or saying that ‘the people’ like their work, so why wont the mean critics.
There is also an increasing feeling coming from certain sections that fringe and more mainstream theatre are enemies, and that you must choose which side you are on. Not being in any way cool I am happily above this nonsense, but I do see some people using their orthodoxy of ‘new’ theatre as a divisive force (ok, crap like Gaslight at the Old Vic don’t help and will put many people off theatre, but I’m talking more about form, because Gaslight is rubbish just like a ‘new’ show might be too). At one end theatre is a business, and without the business end the fringe and subsidised end of the spectrum would not exist (or certainly not in the way it now does), theatre of a commercial nature keeps the industry alive. Commercial theatre may not be to everyone’s taste (mine included), but it keeps many people employed and gives them useful training too.
Fringe theatre (by that I mean a wide range of small scale, physical, site specific and experimental work) can move further towards the mainstream by being excellent, which it often is, and vibrant and exciting, which it very often is. The subsidised sector should encourage all types of work on their stages, already the fringe is booming and many of the most exciting shows are there. But theatre lovers, from the coach outing to the critics are not the enemies of theatre, and neither is the West End.
I was quite pleased with the Tony awards this year. I rally enjoyed Little Dog Laughed, and Julie White was deserving of her best actress trophy. I also loved Spring Awakening, the young cast are particularly brilliant, and the musical was the clear choice for best new musical. I saw the first part of The Coast of Utopia at the Lincoln Centre and enjoyed it, but perhaps not as much as the critics did (I’d already seen the whole trilogy in at the National). Company was also a good winner for best revival, but I am sad to see it close on 1 July, I hope in vain for a transfer (Raul’s ‘Being Alive’ was spine tingling). Christine Ebersole was also well rewarded with the best female lead in a musical award for her terrific turn in Grey Gardens, which I have much higher hopes of coming to London. I’m pretty pleased (as a completist) that I’ve seen all but 2 of the winning shows (if you allow me Coast of Utopia only have seen one part) either in NYC itself or in London pre transfer (I’m not going to do a ‘what a year for the Brits’ thing).