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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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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.


Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you're saying here, but I think you're a wee bit guilty of that old journalistic habit of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story - it would be pushing it to describe "Shimmer" as naturalistic either in its writing or its design. There was not a sofa to be seen, as I recall, despite its setting, and a play that has the structure of a single scene re-played three times from different viewpoints doesn't strike me as naturalistic.

Mark Fisher said...

Anomymous is totally right in this. Shimmer fits into the sequence only in the sense that it happens to have a rural and quasi-domestic setting. I wouldn't have thought to mention it were it not for the company it keeps.