The Tragicomedy of Mac-beth; or how I learnt to stop whining and love the cuts to Arts Council funding

It is no secret that Civilian Theatre has long been troubled by the myopia and self-interest shown in the annual letter-writing campaigns to the Guardian and the Independent from the great-and-good decrying the scandalous cuts to Arts Council funding and how it will endanger the very lifeblood of the craft itself.  Whilst Civilian Theatre is not by nature a callous man and, unsurprisingly, would love to see theatre funded to the hilt in this country – with regional theatres prosperous, village halls packed to the rafters with touring companies and every worthy project that supports a vulnerable group given the financial sustenance they desperately need, it also can’t help but feel if these people of letters are looking rather closer to home for where they feel the funding should be going.

Alongside the cuts, the dramatic rebalancing of Arts Council funding towards more sustainable projects is something that has slipped under the radar. There will always be the need to finance some projects that have great worth but are unlikely to ever be sustainable, but there are plenty of other companies who seem to have grown fat on the years of plenty and seem to have given little thought to what might happen when the tap is turned off.

So what has happened? I don’t see any great decrease in the quality of productions, I don’t see any great decrease in the number of productions, we seem to be in a mini-golden age of playwrights who have broken out of the long shadow cast by Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane et al; Nick Payne, Lucy Kirkwood and Lucy Prebble have all put forward plays that don’t look to the past and that engage with the events of our time – be it Enron, Quantum Physics or China. Are we perhaps seeing the emergence of playwrights who can write truly international plays in global times? Time will tell but these are the people that are moving forwards rather than looking backwards.

And for those companies that have the most part always scraped by; who do theatre for the passion and for the possibility of that break. Some no doubt, funding unsecured, have fallen by the wayside, or accepted their fate is to be a strong amateur company (and there is no shame in that whatsoever). And then there are the dynamic and the proactive; the ones that are utilising every avenue to raise money to put on their shows; who are embracing the modern world in search of funding; who realise that a thousand smaller voices can make as loud a noise as one large one.

Which brings us back to the point of this post. My attention was drawn to The Tragicomedy of Mac-Beth. I have no idea if its good, if it will be good or if it has legs but that isn’t going to stop me dipping my hand in my pocket. And why not? Instead of wasting £20 on 5 pints of beer (yes, thanks London), why not help someone realise their dream, feel good about yourself and experience that smug sense of self-satisfaction when you see yourself listed in the programme?

Want to know more – check out more here

NB: It’s probably worth noting that Civilian Theatre (other than giving money) is no way linked to this production, or any of the companies involved.

Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011)

The tragic death of Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011) earlier this month has sadly robbed the theatrical world of one of the more impressive résumé’s of modern playwrights. Harold Pinter may have been awarded the Nobel Prize for his contributions to literature – an award which contained an inherent recognition of the political aspect of his later writing – but Havel can claim to go one step further; he was a major presence in world politics and also a key figure in the transition from authoritarian communist rule to democracy in the ex-Soviet states. Indeed the gulf between the two can be seen in the fact that it was Pinter who played ‘Vanek’, Havel’s semi-autobiographical alter-ego, in a BBC radio play in 1977.

Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989 Havel was elected, by the Federal Assembly, as the ninth, and as it turned out final, President of Czechoslovakia. He was also responsible for introducing democracy to the country following 40 years of Communist rule, and, despite opposing it, oversaw the movement that led to the eventual split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In a world where most politicians appear to be motivated primarily by money and power, Havel can be held up as a shining example of a true public intellectual. Whereas many playwrights can write about politics, Havel lived through his beliefs and will remain in the history books as a powerful reminder that the literary world can engage with the political on an equal footing.

 

The fact that there is a Havel legacy in the U.K, given the generally dire prominence of any modern playwrights who are not Anglo-American is almost entirely down to the marvellous Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It has become a bastion of Havel’s work, and has been responsible for staging 12 major productions, including the first English translations of many of his plays. In 1977, on the eve of premiering Havel’s work in England, Charter ’77 exploded and the Orange Tree, a tiny theatre above a pub in the heart of liberal London suburbia found itself at the centre of Czech politics. From this moment forward the Orange Tree, an increasingly influential fringe venue, forged a sustained and meaningful relationship with Havel that continued through to his death.

 

For more on the relationship between the Orange Tree and Vaclav Havel click here.

Ravenhill’s Rise and the RSC

Congratulations to Mark Ravenhill, as it has been announced that he will be the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Writer in Residence for 2012. As a man who is generally held critically responsible for helping to kickstart a new generation of British dramatists with the unexpected popular smash, Shopping and Fucking in 1996, it might come as a bit of a surprise. But as a regular commentator in The Guardian and on Newsnight Review, as well as advising Nicholas Hytner at the National, Ravenhill has been in higher echelons of the cultural elite for a while.

Still this doesn’t detract from what could be a promising year. Hopefully acting as a catalyst to reinvigorate a moribund new writing scene at the RSC since Adrian Noble took the reigns, Ravenhill will also have access to one of the greatest acting pools in the world to take on his work. Whilst it might prove to be a false dawn there is always the possibility, bolstered by a domestic world riven with disputes, that the playwrights may finally reassert their theatrical voice.

For more on Ravenhill, new writing and the RSC in the Guardian, click here.