Friday, August 29, 2008

Some of the most scathing put-downs come from theatre, especially the auditorium. My father was a drama critic, and he had a typewriter that must have been twinned with a lemon-grater. He savoured classic sneers, too: "Delusions of adequacy" was one of Walter Kerr's. Less succinct is Bernard Levin's verdict: "the depth of a cracker motto, the drama of a dial-a-recipe service and the eloquence of a conversation between a speak-your-weight machine and a whoopee cushion", but I don't know which playwright writhed under that withering endorsement. Ken Tynan opined- I think of him as someone who opined, rather than just saying - "A dramatist is a congenital eavesdropper with the instincts of a Peeping Tom."
And RT's Allison Pearson recently added to the roll of disparagement: "Why would anyone choose to pay to be cramped and uncomfortable in the same room as hundreds of other people, watching performances that are always too big and too loud and worst of all you can't get out." Theatrical productions, she says, get away with being "yawningly talky and boring", as well as brittle, mannered, stilted, "and nothing actually happens. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that lot in The Bill?"
Well no, I can't, but I don't watch The Bill. It sounds like a fair summary of most of Radio 4 though, but that's probably unfair because I don't listen to that either. I do love theatre, though. That breathless moment when the curtains draw back at the start, and you know your world is about to be changed, perhaps forever. My earliest theatre memory is crying at the end of a London production of Alls Well that Ends Well because I didn't want to go home. Family folklore has me aged three, demanding 'More, more' and refusing to leave my seat. That's the benefit of a critic for a father, even a curmudgeonly one; I'd seen Ibsen and Synge before I was 11, and in the glory days of angry young men, I was wide-eyed in the stalls.
All of which ruminations occurred because my current writing seems to be increasingly dramatic (though without facial lesions or glam cops.) I've been doing some radio shorts for Frome FM, and am keeping fingers & toes crossed my two 15-minute stage plays around the theme of marginalisation will find their way to production next year. It's scary and exciting, writing with no commission and no guaranteed outcome - yet this risky edge is part of a writer's life. Real creativity seems to live in wild places. "You probably have to be unstable to be creative," Anthony Sher says, "All great artists in any field seem a bit mad." I got that from the RT, too.
What else is occurring, as this wet summer dissolves into a damp autumn? Misty walks & cycles, mellow fruitful meetings, disappearance of Scrabulous on facebook, discovery of e-Scrabulous... life goes on in its variously wordy ways.

No comments: