Sometimes, it’s hard not to give
expression to a thought. Playwright David Eldridge once laid into
me in his (now defunct) blog for inferring that many of the views and
experiences of the protagonist in his 2004 play M.A.D.
were or had been
those of David himself. Well, the programme notes did hint at as
much, and I still think the inferences were reasonable even if they
weren’t correct. But look at an example in the current
issue. Depending on how nosily you read them, several of the
reviews of Tusk Tusk
not just that Polly Stenham has returned to the same territory as her
début play That Face
children coping with unreliable, unstable and/or downright absent
parents – but speculate that this seems to be a territory of especial
significance for her.
Now, it’s been noted in Stenham’s defence that Tennessee Williams, for
instance, kept coming back to the same themes. Themes, yes, but
not a near-identical situation. But at this point it all becomes
far too tender a subject. The performance of Tusk Tusk
that I attended was
followed by a Q&A session with author and cast; my neighbour was
surprised I wasn’t staying, but how could that most pregnant, unspoken,
unspeakable question even be asked, never mind answered? I can,
though, firmly endorse the plaudits for Jeremy Herrin’s production and
the trio of central performances. I’m no stranger to the
sometimes prodigious theatrical abilities of young people – when I went
to the Royal Court I was scarcely 48 hours back from the National
Student Drama Festival (full review coverage elsewhere this issue; I’ve
nothing worthwhile to add to my comments a fortnight ago) – but this is
stellar work indeed. And, for whatever reason(s), we are all on
tenterhooks for Stenham’s third play.
Elsewhere, the controversy continues, sometimes at one remove.
When bloggers the West End Whingers wittily framed their review of Death And The King’s Horseman
the form of a 419 (or “Nigerian”) scam letter, a number of commenters
accused them of being “culturally insensitive”; the same commenters see
nothing worthy of remark in the use of black actors in whiteface in the
production. It’s also worth noting that one of the Whingers’
defenders, in vibrant and enthusiastic terms, was Rufus Norris, the
director of the National Theatre’s production.
Last issue I mentioned “the decline and fall of the other fellow’s
point of view”. Another example, though not a pernicious one as
such, occurs in Simon Edge’s review of the same play. “What if
there is no afterlife?” he asks. “That possibility goes
unexplored.” Well, why shouldn’t it go unexplored? The
question itself comes from a viewpoint which implicitly presumes that
the question ought to be asked, and does so because it implicitly
presumes that its own belief system is somehow better than that of
Soyinka’s villagers. But the point of the play is precisely not
to grant priority to one belief system or another, but to observe the
conflict when neither will give ground.
Quentin Letts, in his review, once more accuses Nicholas Hytner at the
National of deliberately programming anti-Christian plays.
Quentin has said this a number of times over the past few years;
perhaps one day he will favour us with the slightest shred of evidence
to back it up.
In another review, Quentin remarks that he “nearly parked my supper” at
the sight of a gay kiss onstage in Spring
. (It can’t have been the youth of the characters
that unsettled him; compare his rhapsodic praise of the teenage Bel Powley
in Tusk Tusk.)
Poor dear. Perhaps he could get some advice on withstanding such
horrors from Christopher Hart or Tim Walker. Tim, meanwhile, has
found another group to pontificate about in his review of Parlour Song
. A few facts
which may or may not be relevant: 1) Mark Shenton and I have been
critical of some of Tim’s writing of late. 2) Mark is built along
generous lines, I along positively profligate ones. 3) Tim has
vowed retaliation against us. 4) Tim then expends a sizeable
amount of his weekly column in musing on the experiences of fat people
in the theatre. Might these facts be related? I couldn’t
possibly comment. In all fairness, though, Tim wouldn’t be the
first person to call me fatty. Just the first in long trousers.
Written for Theatre Record.