Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
THE PERILS OF ‘CLIENT JOURNALISM’
It’s usually a fact of journalistic life that journalists shouldn’t become the story. But sometimes the telling of it requires that we do so, as witness — in one of the more famous episodes — the exposure of the corruption of Watergate (even if it all pales by comparison with the story currently being told by the committee in the House of Representatives about Donald Trump’s utterly shameless attempt to subvert the result of the last presidential election).
But sometimes, it seems, just by calling attention to methods being used by others means that our own integrity is strangely held up to scrutiny. Such was the case with the tangled story behind the premiere of THAT IS NOT WHO I AM, a new play by someone called Dave Davidson, which opened officially at the Royal Court last night.
But even now the full transparent story cannot be fully revealed, as a late embargo was added for those who attended, with reviews now not allowed to run until Sunday at 00.01.
Critics were also given, as is usual, a play text — but it was contained within a brown Manila envelope stamped confidential, and we were told not to open it till after the play ended. This is because it identified who ‘Dave Davidson’ actually was (and indeed, what the play is actually called).
A bit of a cat and mouse game has been played all along, from the moment it was first announced with Time Out’s theatre desk running an “exclusive” announcement in April of its progeny, from a hitherto unknown playwright whom the theatre had suddenly unearthed and promoted onto its main stage without an apparent prior track record.
As it emerged last weekend that we’d been “played”, I began to ask legitimate questions about whether Time Out were complicit or had themselves been played by the Royal Court’s press office.
Neither scenario is very edifying, to be honest. But TIME OUT’s theatre desk — run by editor Andzrej Lukowski — went into immediate defensive mode when I called this into question, tweeting snarkily against me, and then — in an act of desperate immaturity — actually blocking me on Twitter.
I was informed yesterday that they’d posted an explanation about blocking me on Twitter, though as I was blocked, I didn’t actually see it.
This is actually libellous — I did not tweet “relentlessly” or “nonsense” but merely in response to them, and to clear up continued misrepresentations.
My tweets remain on the record — but TIME OUT’s do not. They have deleted all their tweets on the subject., including the one screengrabbed above (as I say, I was supplied this by a reader who had caught it before it was deleted).
All of which is, of course, a sideshow to the play itself. But it does raise issues provoked by the play, too, so I can’t help but think that perhaps I’m being played too, as part of the conversation it is having.
And though much has been written under false pretences, in every sense, by such ‘client media’ as TIME OUT’s theatre desk, I am not going to break the theatre’s official embargo of 00.01 Sunday to say anything more on the play itself.
In January 2021, Tribune magazine wrote a feature on how COVID had “exposed Britain’s client journalism problem.’
As the feature laid out,
As with politics, so with theatre and the (mis)handling of this announcement: in becoming an unpaid arm of the Royal Court’s publicity department, TIME OUT had lost its independence entirely, and become an integral part of duping the theatregoing public. (The original announcement of the play wasn’t TIME OUT’s sole contribution to the project: on June 1, it offered yet more ‘exclusive’ content on the author’s identity, with two behind-the-scenes videos posted, going “deeper into the mystery of the Royal Court’s new play”, as they billed it).
Maybe the legitimate intention was purely to raise interest in the play. But it did some more damaging things, too: as many aspiring writers took to Twitter to point out, it raised false hopes that the Royal Court might yet discover and promote entirely unknown voices to its main stage. As for TIME OUT’s own integrity, why would its readers ever believe its ‘scoops’ again?
A HAPPIER THEATRE EVENT
I had an altogether happier theatre outing yesterday at the Royal Academy of Music on Marylebone Road, where I saw an utterly thrilling production of Adam Guettel & Craig Lucas’s simultaneously shattering and ravishing 2005 Broadway masterwork THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, directed by Hannah Chissick, with stunning musical direction by Chris Whittaker.
I’ve loved this musical ever since I first saw it at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, with the bewitching Victoria Clark and Kellii O’Hara as the mother and her damaged daughter unexpectedly finding romance on holiday in Florence. I’ve subsequently seen its British premiere at Curve, Leicester (2009, with Lucy Schaufer and Caroline Sheen), then its London premiere at the Royal Festival Hall (2019, with Renée Fleming and Dove Cameron, the latter only at some performances).
A new production, which will star Ruthie Ann Miles as the matriarch, has just been announced will open the 2023 Encores! season at New York City Center, for a run from February 1-5, and I will definitely be there. I also seriously wish I could be at Colorado’s Central City Opera next month from July 2-28 to see Canadian soprano Rebecca Caine — a long-time resident of London, since she starred as the original Cosette in Les Miserables — play Margaret Jonson.
But for now I am content to have seen the Royal Academy’s stunning young cast, led by the ravishingly voiced duo of Jade Oswald and Abi Hudson as the mother and daughter (above centre) with James Hastings as Fabrizio also making a major impression. These are all stars in the making.
SEE YOU ON TUESDAY
I’ll be back here on Tuesday, just before I fly off to Spain for a week, so that will be the only newsletter next week. Meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends).