PROMPT CORNER 01-02/2007
Days Of Significance / The Seagull / Bash
Various venues
January, 2007


Though actually, while I’m on the subject of absurd utterances, have a look at the Daily Mail review of Days Of Significance.  The alert reader will have noticed that Quentin Letts’ writings sometimes get up my nose like a little finger (which is somewhat embarrassing, since I rather enjoy his company of an evening).  But this one, like those council decisions, is breathtaking.  When I read it, I actually rang up the Royal Shakespeare Company and congratulated them on getting the kind of hyperbolical quote that most would give their eye teeth for.  Imagine it pasted up in front of the theatre: “Treason – Daily Mail”!

The UK’s newspapers, broadly speaking, tend to be of a conservative (with a small “c”, to say the least) ideological slant; its theatre reviewers, broadly speaking, tend to be of a more liberal disposition.  Quentin is aware of the latter inclination, and enjoys being a gadfly in that respect.  The trouble is that, in the context of his paper, he isn’t a gadfly at all.  In fact, I’ve never seen an example of arts reviewing in the free world which so consistently prosecutes the overall political agenda of its host outlet.  It reduces reviewing to just another tool in the editorial-political box, and in doing so damages it not just within the confines of the title in question but in the wider field.

Let’s keep a sense of perspective: to call Roy Williams’ play treasonous is clearly absurd, whether or not one has seen or read it.  But it’s the underlying implications that unsettle me.  There’s a suggestion there that artistic output has a civic duty to chime with national enterprises, national characteristics… or with matters that are declared to be so.  And that’s not just wrong, it’s chilling.  It savours, in the fullest and most literal sense, of totalitarianism.  I’m sure Quentin would be among the first to oppose any political system reliant on the diktats of commissars.  Unfortunately, he’s expressed his disagreement with (his misinterpretation of) the sentiments of Roy Williams’ play in terms which imply precisely that.  And frogging and medals wouldn’t suit him, honestly.

Top-notch

Just space enough for one “everybody else is right” remark and a couple of “I can’t believe…”s.  In the matter of The Seagull, Ian Rickson’s production deserves all the praise it has been laden with.  (In particular, it’s gratifying to see Katherine Parkinson’s name being filed for future reference by more reviewers; I know her future career will justify the attention.)  This has, in fact, been the first production to make me understand why the play deserves its place among Chekhov’s Big Four.  It’s been a heck of a month for top-notch openings: my Financial Times senior Alastair Macaulay, normally a man as prudent with his reviewer’s stars as Gordon Brown with public sector borrowing, gave four five-star ratings during January – to The Seagull, Happy Days (another beautiful production, with Fiona Shaw banishing even the memory of Billie Whitelaw in the role of Winnie), the Sheffield production of The Caretaker (currently on tour; we’ll be reprinting Alastair’s review when it arrives at the Tricycle in March) and Uncle Vanya

Which leads me to my first point of dissent: what has been praised as the coolness and disengagement of Rachael Stirling’s portrayal of Yelena I just think of as brittle mannerism in her performance style as a whole.  My other point is more specific.  Normally I would defer entirely to Rhoda Koenig in the matter of American accents: she has the ear of a native, after all.  But the praise in the closing remark of her review of Bash is, I’m afraid, misplaced.  Of the four actors, three suffered at some point from the intrusive “R” so common to English actors trying to speak American (Jodie Whittaker’s character, apparently, wore a gown of taffeter; still, at least nobody mentioned Chicargo) and the fourth, Juliet Rylance, spoke of being seduced by her teacher amid the fishtanks in something called a Maradigm Center.  Where they plan for maradigm shifts, presumably.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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