Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Collection, Gorgeous Avatar and Children's Festival

Been a bit slow adding to my website a couple of theatre reviews I did recently. Follow the links for an impressive revival of Mike Cullen's The Collection by Rapture Theatre and a second review of Jules Horne's Gorgeous Avatar at Edinburgh's Traverse.

Talking of which, Horne's Gorgeous Avatar blog includes information about all aspects of the production process, but no comment on the critical reaction. For a first-time writer, having your work reviewed, favourably or otherwise, must be a novel experience and it would have been interesting to read Horne's reactions on the blog.

But, unlike Catherine Czerkawska whose Wordarts blog talked about the critical response to a play she wrote for A Play, a Pie and a Pint a few months ago, the Gorgeous Avatar blog is silent. That's because it's as much the work of the Traverse Theatre's marketing department as it is of Horne herself and, for perfectly good reasons, the company doesn't want to get into a tit-for-tat spat between critics and writer.

There is a problem about artists responding to critical comments because they're always going to have a vested interest in defending their work. It's too easy for them to sound biased, deranged, defensive, hurt, blinkered, etc - whether or not they are any of those things. This is frustrating because reviews should be the start of a discussion not the end of one. And the blogosphere is the perfect arena for such a discussion to take place.

Czerkawka's most recent post is about her reactions to the TAG/National Theatre of Scotland production of The Crucible (links to my reviews on my National Theatre of Scotland page). I happen to agree with her assessment, but that's not the point. What would be healthy is if more people - critics, artists, audience - joined in the discussion.

But before you do that, do check out the Bank of Scotland Children's International Theatre Festival this week. So far I've seen The Giraffe's Journey, a bonkers Italian show performed in a home-made hut, Them with Tails, hilarious improvisational storytelling by Tall Stories, and Shopping for Shoes, an excellent if too short story about the pressures of global capitalism by Visible Fictions.

Monday, May 22, 2006

National Theatre of Scotland Transform & Royal Lyceum season

The National Theatre of Scotland is operating at all levels of the theatre ecology, which means community projects as well as glamorous nights in posh theatres. Transform is one such community project, taking place in four locations, responding to the ideas of local people and resourcing them on a level much higher than your average amateur show. My interview with Simon Sharkey was squashed into a smaller than expected space in Scotland on Sunday yesteday, so I've put the original article here at NTS Transform

Elsewhere in Scottish theatre, Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum has announced its autumn/spring programme.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Children's Festival and Don Quixote review

Two articles published yesterday about the Bank of Scotland Children's International Theatre Festival, plus a review of Don Quixote by Theatre Modo. Find them all at Mark Fisher's Scottish Theatre Links.

Friday, May 12, 2006

So-so sofas: review of Gorgeous Avatar

Recently a director told me she had it on good authority that we critics were agreeing on our opinions before we'd written our reviews. The allegation was that now we were presenting the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland we wanted to show a united front.

The idea is ridiculous. Apart from the impracticality of getting everyone to agree when most of us have deadlines less than 12 hours after the end of the performance, the truth is we are meticulous in not sharing our opinions with anyone before we write. None of us likes the idea of being influenced by our colleagues.

All the same, I wouldn't blame Edinburgh's Traverse if it accused me and Neil Cooper of collusion this morning. My review of Gorgeous Avatar in The Guardian opens with: "There was a time when the Traverse's script-reading panel would throw away any play requiring a sofa. Today, living room dramas are the official house style."

Neil's in The Herald begins: "Confronted with yet another living room sofa in a rural domestic interior, one's heart sinks on entering the premiere of Jules Horne's debut full-length play."

Needless to say, there was no plagiarism involved, but equally our train of thought is more than coincidental. Consider this sequence of Traverse productions since 2004: The Nest, set in a bothy up a mountain; Shimmer, set in a guest house in the country; In the Bag, set in a Chinese yuppie flat; I was a Beautiful Day, set in the living quarters of a long-term care home; East Coast Chicken Supper, set in a Fife living room; and Melody, set in an Ayrshire living room. The only play that bucks the trend of small-scale domesticity is The Found Man which is set in a number of locations around a costal village.

Of course, it's not Jules Horne's fault that Gorgeous Avatar adds another play to this sequence, but the production is symptomatic of two things. One is the reluctance of writers to think on a big scale (though plays have to be set somewhere and living rooms were good enough for Sean O'Casey, Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Miller et al). More significant is the Traverse's default position of naturalism, always providing a real sofa where an imagined one might be more liberating and theatrical. Are playwrights well served by such literal interpretation of their work?

You can follow the progress of Gorgeous Avatar on Jules Horne's blog.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

CATS Awards and reaction to SAC move

The shortlist for the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland has been released. My colleagues and I spent a long day in a Glasgow hotel at the weekend, deliberating over the ten categories. Putting a dozen of the most opinionated people in Scotland in a room for six hours is always a high-risk strategy - and the day did have its outbursts - but we survived it in remarkably good humour. We even hit the pub that evening for a few more pints than was sensible on an empty stomach. A pariticularly strong shortlist this year, I think.

Meanwhile, The Stage reports on the fallout from the Scottish Arts Council publishing its internal reports online. It isn't too specific about where the "backlash" is coming from, though. Borderline, of course, is disgruntled, being one of the companies facing the axe, but it was disgruntled before the reports were made public, so its reaction is hardly a backlash. It'd be interesting to know who "many of the country’s leading theatre organisations" are - especially when, by the article's own admission, Lizzi Nicoll, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, has welcomed the move.

New on Mark Fisher's Scottish Theatre Links today, a review of Ali Smith's The Seer.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Scottish Arts Council goes public with its theatrical opinions

The Scottish Arts Council has always kept quiet about its internal discussions of artistic standards. In fact, for many years, you could believe it didn't consider art to be of much importance at all, so obsessed was it with the tick-box mentality of audience targets, etc.

But two things have happened to change all that. Firstly, the organisation has made a policy shift away from the audience and towards the artist - although it still sounds confused about what that means. Secondly, it has responded to pressure from aggrieved theatre companies by making public its internal assessments of their work. You can download pdf files of the SAC's reviews here.

Having scrolled through a few of them, I'm stuck by how poorly written many are. It doesn't inspire confidence in the writer when an assessment is riddled with mistakes. I know these were never intended for public consumption, but internal communications need to be literate too.

As for the assessments themeselves, there is the odd quirky opinion, but on the whole they're reasonably close to the mark. And better that the companies know how their work is being treated than the former clandestine approach.

New on Mark Fisher's Scottish Theatre Links: a review of Elizabeth Gordon Quinn, an interview with up-and-coming tenor Nicky Spence and a behind-the-scenes look at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

Coming soon: a review of Ali Smith's The Seer and the shortlist for the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland.