May 28, 2008

Love to hate

Have you ever had a production you've enjoyed completely ruined for you by talking to other people about it afterwards? There was a Guardian blog some time ago which first got me asking that question, and it's kinda happened again today. I quite enjoyed the RSC's new Shrew (not without a great many reservations, I hasten to add) and got some interesting stuff out of it, but have been debating the production at great length with someone who absolutely loathed it. While that doesn't change my opinion, or the enjoyment I had of my evening out, it does spoil a production somewhat when you find yourself defending it.

That said, I always get infinitely more out of a production for debating it, even if I lose something of the simple enjoyment of it. It deepens and adds to my understanding and often throws up issues that hadn't even occurred to me, particularly if the person I'm talking to saw a different performance or was viewing and thinking about the play from a specific standpoint. In turn, I'm confident enough nowadays in my own theatre-viewing to make my own case, and point out things that they missed.

I suppose what's fascinating is that I'm in a business which creates lasting meaning out of ephemeral moments. Most of the people at the Courtyard last night were there for a simple three hours of theatre. So was I, but those three hours also have a lasting impact for me through the writing of reviews and the ongoing addition to my understanding of Shakespeare in contemporary performance. I won't necessarily be ever writing articles on this production, but it goes into my 'bank' of witnessed events that is there to be drawn on should I ever need. And of course, things change in time. Just because I laughed my way through a performance doesn't mean I'll still be laughing about it in the morning and I'm liable to be far more criticial, but shouldI be? After all, it was only meant to make me laugh at the time, not beyond. Is it fair, or appropriate, to re-evaluate my response in the cold light of day?

I suppose what I'm saying is that I think, as a reviewer, the reaction in the moment is very important. However much afterwards you rethink your position and wonder "Maybe I shouldn't have found that as funny as I did" or "That wasn't nearly as sophisticated as it felt at the time", the theatrical experience is primarily geared towards making you feel a certain way at the time, while you're in direct contact with the production. Of course you can contextualise and analyse your responses afterwards, but I think it's necessary to hold on to the memory of how you thought and felt at the time. Trust the instinctive response, for there are things that you can't intellectually justify but remain true regardless.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Duncan

    When someone explains their perspective on a production and it’s different to yours, you can experience something akin to anguish as you try to assimilate their view into yours. But after a while you can usually maintain your own opinion and understand the assumptions that led the other person to theirs.

    I thought Merry Wives The Musical was great fun. Someone else thought it was dire. I rationalised this by concluding that someone with no sense of fun probably would come to that conclusion and thereby learnt something about the attitudes I brought to the production by comparing them with the other person’s.

    It is also true that some people have (allegedly) seen so much good theatre in the past that they find it impossible to like what is being made now.

    Disdain for recent popular stuff like Nunn’s Lear is just a way of showing off precisely how many Lears they can remember. “Oh you liked that did you? Of course, it wasn’t a patch on xxxx’s Lear back in 1845. But then you wouldn’t remember that, would you?”

    I only started theatregoing in any serious way in 2005, so for me it’s all as fresh as a daisy. But I didn’t like Meckler’s R&J. I even I could tell that was wrong.

    28 May 2008, 19:37

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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