Distant Voices, Still Bloggers

It has been a quiet few weeks for Civilian Theatre as the rigours of work and the first signs of Spring have being jostling theatre for my attention; providing a distraction from the questionable pleasures of spending precious free time sitting in darkened rooms with strangers having a shared experience (in a way distinctly less kinky than that may sound).

What it has done is allow time to catch up on the rest of the blogosphere. As I have mentioned previously the rather wonderful, and supremely energetic, Rebecca at Official Theatre has circled the wagons around #LDNTheatreBloggers and an increasing number of bloggers are gathering around the Twitter campfire

It is quite depressing how talented – and young – most of them are but (deep breath) it’s about collaboration not competition. Although I am sure that the desire to rewatch Theatre of Blood (96% on the Tomatometer people!) is purely coincidental.

This being the Internet there is naturally a blog for every niche interest imaginable and below are just a few of my favourites.

Making money from being brainy

For a long time Matt Trueman has been writing comment and criticism that has been the model for Civilian Theatre’s own output. Quite regularly a review will be uploaded, only to discover that Matt Trueman has written a far more perceptive and challenging article that gets to the heart of matter with half as much pseudo-intellectualism. Read him and weep – no wonder he is actually making proper money from this. The new Michael Billington (with all due respect to the existing Michael Billington). http://matttrueman.co.uk/  

Victoria Sadler, writing at The Huffington Post, is one of these infuriating bloggers who have demonstrated themselves as a master of all trades, jack of none. As articulate and interesting writing about art exhibitions as she is about theatre, if you are looking for another regular weekly columnist then Victoria Sadler’s articles for The Huffington Post a well worth a look-in. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-sadler/

Thinking about theatre

James Waygood – the self-styled Grumpy Gay Critic – is somewhat less churlish in person than his Twitter handle may suggest. Luckily his critical faculties are, if anything, all the more potent as a result and he is always willing to give the plays he watches the write-ups they deserve. If you prefer in-depth commentary about what makes a production work to a 400 word plot synopsis and the casual awarding of 4 stars then Grumpy Gay Critic may be the blog for you. And now with added videos! http://grumpygaycritic.co.uk/

Laura Peatman is part of the aforementioned brigade of young and talented bloggers. However I try to keep my jealously intact and not to hold it against her as we have a tendency to swim in the same waters and Laura is always good value for a refreshing, perceptive and informed take on anything from ancient Greeks onwards. https://laurapeatman.wordpress.com/page/2/

I am sure that neither would thank me for mentioning it but Webcowgirl and There Ought To Be Clowns are relative veterans of the theatre blogging scene. There Ought To Be Clown’s first review dates back to 2003 – Trevor Nunn’s magical production of Anything Goes, which happens to be still the only musical production that Civilian Theatre has been to more than once – whilst Webcowgirl was in full flow by 2006. Early adopters indeed. Both blogs were key to encouraging Civilian Theatre dipping his toes into the murky world of internet blogging. Still the original and still often the best.

There are a number of multi-reviewer sites and these are often a mixed-bag. Views from the Gods is worthy of mention due to its impressive commitment to reviewing plays from the fringes of London’s theatre scene. The array of reviews at Views from the Gods acts as an important reminder that you can barely swing a cat in London without someone labelling it as site-specific theatre and charging £16 a ticket, and they offer a valuable service in telling you whether that would be a good investment of your precious time and money.

…And they just keep coming

There are obviously loads of other great sites. Exeunt is good for pretentious elitism, Everything Theatre is good for bite-sized reviews and A Younger Theatre is good for my developing Dorian Gray fantasies.

As part of the single-blogger army I am always happy to see others confidently carving their own individualistic furrow and so the final three recommends go to Mingled Yarns, The Bardette and Hello Emma Kay.

Happy reading folks.

Knocking down the Berlin (fourth) Wall

An Enemy of the People – Schaubühne Berlin @ Barbican (24 – 28 September 2014)

They don’t make many like they make Thomas Ostermeier. That he is not on the tip of the tongue of British theatre-goers says more about the appallingly low number of productions that make it across the channel and the limited tours when if the even get here. An Enemy of the People was sold out for its five performances at the Barbican and I am certain if there was the bravery to finance a small tour then people would come. How can people71c4ddf9-d738-459e-9cb0-b6f09f73e98d-460x276 learn what they like if they never get the chance to see anything different?

The glorious thing about watching an Ostermeier production is that while you may not know quite what you will get, you know it will still be a quintessentially Ostermeier affair. For, yes, we are back in the realm of the director as  auteur. Cue much huffing and puffing from the comment boards and cue rapturous, and occasionally unthinking, applause from everyone else. An Enemy of the People is the latest to hit the Barbican and follows on from a radical Hamlet that tore down almost every Shakespearian convention and reinvented the play from the grave up.

T1Ostermeier seems to be a man who will be anything but be dull. He brings his own hyperactivity to the text and energises performances far past what audiences should find comfortable; Hamlet clocked in at 168 minutes without an interval, and An Enemy of the People doesn’t fall far short at 150. Yet the quality can be seen that, despite the ridiculous running time, the audience sat in rare rapt attention, with not a rustle or toilet break to be seen disrupting the action.

An Enemy of the People is not without flaws and there is a nagging suspicion that Florian Borchmeyer commits serious logical fallacies in trying to bridge his adaptation of Ibsen’s text with a modern element that draws on the anonymous 2007 paper, The Coming Insurrection. However these flaws don’t destroy the integrity of the play and should be placed in the context of the vitality of the production and the creation of a theatrical experience that genuinely led to an enforced, and welcome, assessment of my own political values.

That the modern element fails is a shame due to the fact that Ibsen’s own play is so strangely contemporary that it barely needs updating to maintain its resonance. The idea of the small, righteous man standing up against a society that does not want to hear his truth has never gone out of fashion and has grown in stature in recent years, with the Young Vic staging a 1970’s set version last year.

<<Continue to full review>>

Six of the Best: Scathing Babel Reviews

With the dust beginning to settle around the remains of the ill-fated Tower, it only remains to pick through the rubble for some choice quotes from a set of reviewers who have acted with a singularity of purpose that one wishes might have applied by the eight partner companies behind Babel.

With hindsight it seems horribly inevitable that a production based on the story of the development of languages should be so inchoate in its own messages. Working together like a pack of wolves scenting blood, reviewers of all shapes and sizes have seized on its weaknesses in order to give all concerned a right kick in the Babels.

Given the general tone of respectable politeness that most of my peers exude the only reasonable explanation is some kind of Village of the Damned-style mind control. Tragic of course, but rather than waste the opportunity this humble reviewer has taken the opportunity to gather together the most scabrous, haranguing, bad-temperedly bilious reviews in one easy cut-out and keep article. So do please enjoy.

Six of the best

6. Michael Coveney, What’s On Stage

“The best part of it is the queuing outside (rather like on the first day of a Lord’s Test Match), the bar inside, the gathering in the Pleasance round the corner…”

Well it seems only fair that we kick off with one of the more positive reviews. It is true that a £3.50 for a decent sized cup of red wine, the bar on site proved to be remarkably better value than the eye-wateringly high prices that regularly empties the pockets of punters frequenting the Barbican.  The review does rather go downhill from there…

5. Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

“…politically correct, dramatically inert and involves a great deal of tiresome queuing

Ok, scratch that, maybe not everyone liked the queuing.

4. Matt Trueman, Carousel of Fantasies

“…sickly stench of hippyish platitudes and synthetic good will”

Hmm, it really does seem that people were turned off by the do-gooding spirit of the whole affair. Perhaps audiences have become more cynical but I am sure that we weren’t the only ones expressing some sympathy with the guards, particularly when being forced to face protestors with sentiments that sounded like they were agreed by passing around a conch at a commune in the 1970’s.

3. Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

“…we are instructed to “cherish the child that holds your hand.” At this point I thought I might throw up.”

Yes, there really was a backlash against the way the sentiment in the show is presented. Even our muesli-eating friends at the Guardian had problems with it being ‘too politically naïve, too lacking in complexity and texture’. If they hoped it might strike a chord with those issue-conscious Indy readers then, well, bad luck: making the schmaltzy declarations of our shared humanity […] shouted out at the end harder to swallow”.

=2. Eleanor Turney, A Younger Theatre / Michael Coveney, What’s On Stage

banal pomposity” / “self-conscious, low-level, intellectual sloppiness”

A tie for 2nd place as A Younger Theatre and What’s On Stage battle it out for the most succinctly elegant riposte. Turney wins on artful simplicity, whereas Coveney has the edge on bilious testiness.

And our winner is…

1. Matt Trueman, Carousel of Fantasies

“Only the spirit in which Babel was conceived saves it from being irredeemable. In its execution, it ranks as a failure on all fronts, most significantly on the grounds that it fans the very cynicism that it sets out to counter”

Umm, ouch. As an introductory paragraph this pretty much takes the biscuit. In most of the reviews it would take until the second or third paragraph before really laying into the production but Trueman sets his sights on the jugular from almost the first word. In fact the whole effect is magnified by the half-hearted attempt to inject some positivity by referring to the spirit of the production. I remember being in a rugby team walloped by over 100 points against our public school betters, apparently we could console ourselves in the fact we ‘played the game with spirit’. It didn’t console me then, and it shouldn’t console anyone now.

The month ahead in reviews

A truth well recognised by those who must do the things they enjoy on an unpaid basis is that one must spend much time squeezed between the work you are paid to do and the work that you would like to do. Having spent the last few weeks dedicating some serious time and energy to the former, it feels that the latter requires a little more attention.

So now that the natural equilibrium of all things can look forward to being restored, here are the reviews that you can look forward to over the next month or so:

  • School for Scandal
  • The Infernal Comedy
  • The Cherry Orchard
  • Rosencrantz & Guildernstern Are Dead
  • Emperor & Galilean