Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE on 2/02/2022.
And in the currently divisive place we seem to be in, seeing the same thing from different points of view is so rare that we ought to celebrate it!
But then divide and conquer seems to otherwise be the prevailing philosophy of government, from its active promotion of culture wars, to its own casual disregard for laws it made itself, as in Boris Johnson’s initially denied and now possibly criminal behaviour attending illegal parties in 10 Downing Street during lockdown.
Asked last night about the disproportionate impacts on poorer people who may not be able to pay £60-120 for a COVID test when they are no longer free, and then lose pay by self-isolating without enough financial support, he replied that we are “underestimating the willingness of people to do the right thing.” His own behaviour is surely proof of exactly the opposite.
No wonder people are reeling from the head-spinning contradictions implied; and without leadership, we are now being asked to take “personal responsibility” in all matters, including keeping ourselves and each other safe.
In the midst of the challenges of the last two years, theatres have inevitably been focused, first and foremost, on their very survival. Some theatres, of course, are too big to fail; and Cultural Recovery Funds were made available so they didn’t.
But soon, too, the chickens are going to come home to roost. In an interview with the National’s artistic director Rufus Norris in today’s TIMES, Dominic Maxwell points out that the theatre will have to start repaying the government loan of £19.7m in two years.
This doesn’t mean, he insists, that they’re only looking for hit shows now:
“Big hits are welcome, of course they are. But I’m not going to programme purely with that in mind. It tends not to work. And it’s just not what we’re here for.”
That’s a useful defence when you’ve had a recent run of flops, including HEX (that didn’t even open to the press) and MANOR (that received a mostly desultory round of zero and one star reviews). The planned opening of OUR GENERATION last week was also derailed by COVID cases in the company, and is now set to open next Tuesday (March 1).
Maxwell also asks him if, at a time of cultural turmoil as well as Covid calamity, he ever feels that whatever he does is going to rub someone up the wrong way? “I think there would be something wrong with me if I had been having fun,” he answers carefully.
But neither have audiences at his theatre, either. The relationships of audiences to the theatres they visit are constantly being recalibrated based on personal experience.
Now that I no longer HAVE to see everything and can make my own choices about where to spend my time (and often my money, too), the National Theatre has fallen right off my radar of essential London venues. By the same token, Hampstead — not too long ago a theatre I had stopped visiting regularly — has resurfaced as one that’s always on my go-to list again, in every sense. (I recently adored PEGGY FOR YOU there and greatly admired THE FOREST that is currently playing there). Ditto the Almeida, probably currently the most essential theatre in London (I’m catching up with their current production of THE CHAIRS tomorrow).
As someone who regularly plans transatlantic jaunts to catch up on New York theatre, I have many friends who live over there who do the same in reverse for London.
SEE YOU ON THURSDAY
I am skipping tomorrow as I head to London for a couple of nights.
You can also find regular updates on ShentonSTAGE LIVE, a rolling theatre blog that appears on my website, updated throughout the day as necessary, to reflect news updates and other observations and commentary as they occur. The landing page for this is here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-live/
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