Dec 11, 2007

2007 (Part The First)

Well, that's it then. We've scrambled another year onwards, almost all accounted for.

As much as I agree with Andrew that it's been a year stuffed with an exhilarating, exhausting series of conversations, arguments and, well, some actual theatre, I can't help feeling that the suggestion that we've solved everything and have run out of things to talk about is somewhat premature.

There's surely plenty of thinking and talking needed to be done, for example, on the relationship between the mainstream and the, umm, not-mainstream (upstream, alternative, experimental... pay your money and take your choice). Only today Brian Logan has an interesting article up at the Guardian about another fractured attempt at amalgamating alternatives modes of practise into the turgid British theatrical tradition. And I'm sure that anyone reading this is already aware of Chris Goode's fascinating ramble on the means by which the adherents of that same tradition are already peeling the skin off experimental theatre and draping themselves in it like a grotesque theatrical version of Silence of the Lambs (an idea that, surprisingly, no one at Tristan Baker has come up with... yet).

Indeed, just today in his round-up of the theatrical year Michael Billington reiterated his spurious claim that the only thing experiemental theatre was missing was a decent playwright. Chris has already aptly demonstrated the ways in which this assertion misses the fundamentals of alternative theatrical forms, taking its aesthetic to be its essence. Fixated on the hip location or the dazzling technology you miss the unpredictability, the intimacy, the risk, the authentic sense of participation that is what absolutely constitutes exciting experimental theatre. When Billington cites Complicite's clinical and uninspiring A Disappearing Number as a sign of the proper way that mainstream theatre can diversify, you know that there's a long way to go.

Yet although we (or indeed Chris) may have thoroughly dissected this problematic appropriation, surely this conversation is only half-done. Where do we go from here? How do we forge a more meaningful relationship between mainstream and the 'upstream'? How can the Royal Court or the National or the RSC accomodate ways of working that are incompatible with their complex technical apparatus and their play-making philosophy?

Indeed, should they? There's a piece I still mean to write about a localness that is missing from a theatre world that is still built around events; can any theatre that is as singularly located claim to be a National Theatre? Rather than worrying about the quality of this particular show or that, should we not instead be building a localised theatre, a dispersed series of events and happenings, that does not pretend to the universal but is instead focused on its immediate context and its individual participants?

And while we're on it, let's talk a little about the internet's favourite pinata, Mr Michael Billington. Surely a lot of the frustration vented at this generous and passionate elder statesmen is a product of the fact that somewhat stupefyingly he is still in the forefront of forging the theatrical agenda after 30 years in the same job. His attitude to what theatre can or should be, relatively unchanged after everything that has happened to the world (the internet, the end of the cold war, the rise of postmodernism, 9/11, the continued existence of Simon Cowell) in the intervening years, is still the orthodoxy in theatre. And as we're well aware, he's not the only one. So while our tiny internet pot may be bubbling over with exciting new ideas, its hardly like we're forging a brave new world quite yet.

One of the things I have enjoyed so much about writing for the Guardian is that it has required me to go back and repeatedly explain, justify and underline those points of presumed knowledge that are essentially givens in our online discourse. Because for all that our little community forges an exciting collective theatrical vision (primarily by enthusiastically agreeing with each other), it's not necessarily having that much impact on the wider theatre community yet. I know from personal experience that some artists are beginning to be informed by the subjects thrown about on the internet, but what of the Dominic Cookes and the Nick Hytners - are they avid readers?

What is the relationship between theatre and criticism anyway - there's a chicken and an egg really should throw together for a while. Especially as one thing the internet riotously does is blur the boundaries between the two - how many of those who so passionately write about what they feel theatre should be are at the same time creating (either writing or directing or, very often, both) their own work? The majority, I'd say.

The Guardian website is a fascinating entity in all this. There's now a wee bevvy of wonderfully talented people writing there and already it's surely beginning to challenge the orthodoxy suggested above - if only in that for every painfully inevitable Billington tirade, Lyn G is able to provide a refreshing counter narrative to absolutely cheer.

How though might we take this further? And if, as Andrew suggests, we are already running out of topics for your typical several hundred word blog post how might we begin to forge a more dynamic dialogue in the infinite spaces of the internet? If the internet is the future of theatre criticism, we who are here in the early days have an opportunity to try and construct that criticism as something meaningful and radical and new - but what and how?

I've enjoyed immensly reading everything that has been written over the past 12 months. I've been exhilerated, challenged, confused. I've felt jealous, awed and faintly inadequate in equal measure. And I'm undoubtedly looking forward to what happens in the 2008.

Coming up in part II later this week I'll try and write a little about some of the actual theatre that I've seen and enjoyed this year along with music/films and other such cultural bric-a-brac.

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