When is it time to move away from watching mediocre theatre?
Visitors to this site may have noticed a paucity in the number of my recent blog posts. Although this has been the effect of several causes, laziness has not played any (significant) part. Having recovered from a late-November flurry of shows, I’ve realised that I’m no Mark Shenton: I can’t watch 12 shows in one week and retain my sanity. I’ve also realised that there definitely is such a thing as too much theatre. Combining 5 performances a week with an already busy schedule is tough enough, but when I noticed that the majority of these performances were middling to awful, I began to wonder what I was doing. In haste I also wrote several sub-par blog posts. It became a case in point of quantity over quality.
Although I’ve not been reviewing, I’ve still been watching off and on, but have seen little to inspire me to write. The Box Set at the Etcetera earlier this week is possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen: bad writing, worse acting and more penis jokes than even a teenage boy could withstand. The Cradle Will Rock at #68 Arcola (yes, I failed to blog about a first time visit to a theatre) was by no means as bad, but still left me uninspired. I know there have been many positive comments about the production, and I don’t think it was at all bad, but it made me neither think nor feel. Similarly Men Should Weep is an appealing staging of a rediscovered play, but it’s essentially Coronation Street on stage. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily watch Corrie from time to time, but it’s not the reason I go to the National. Hamlet, too, was aesthetically pleasing, and Kinnear does a fine job. But Ophelia with a ghettoblaster? T-shirts tucked into tracksuit bottoms? An ambiguously contemporary setting with no apparent political agenda? I’m beginning to wonder if I expect too much from theatre.
I can count the number of outstanding shows I’ve seen this year on one hand, but that’s ok: it’s what outstanding means. The number of real disappointments, however, could keep me going all night. Spending five nights a week watching a lot of dross is disheartening, and it’s led me to pursue other interesting new enterprises. (Rest assured, I won’t be starting a blog about them). As Boal said, ‘I don’t want people to use the theatre as a way of not doing real life’. Although we can’t always hope to see theatre that will fundamentally change us as people or cure social problems, we can hope for theatre that clicks with us or makes us think. At the very least we should hold out for something that grips us and entertains us rather than makes us feel like we’ve wasted our time (and possibly money) on something that is average or worse. Any suggestions of theatre that might restore my faith will be gratefully received.