Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Theatre Criticism- A Passion Or A Business?

Sexy time in The Viewing Room

Having just obtained press tickets for yet another night after opening night, I got a bit crabby about always being relegated to the not so impressive second night. Obviously it's because I only write for a lowly student newspaper (who happen to be the theatre goers of the future and haven't been hit too hard by the recession...yet) but I still get a peeved until I remember the time I did go to opening night.

It was a small play at the Arts Theatre called "The Viewing Room". the sole reason it had managed to get onto the West End was that it boasted the star power of Leonard Roberts, whom I had grown up watching in a bit part in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and had just finished playing DL in Heroes. The play itself was very good and very affecting, taking influences from the dystopian fictions of Orwell and Huxley and also contemporary sources such as Big Brother and the then current American Government. This was my first (and so far only) opening night and so was quite excited. When I got to the theatre it took the lady a while to find my ticket- not a good start, soon after I was hounded by some corporate type who was running some website recruiting students to run for the Mayor of London position. I fobbed him off with the editors telephone number and went to find my seat.

I was informed before the show that, being press, I would be able to obtain complementary drinks from the VIP room at the interval. I spent almost the entire interval trying to get in said room. Apparently I needed a press pass which was difficult as Felix don't issue press passes and so had to search for "Sally in the lobby" instead, how I was supposed to know who Sally was is beyond me. Whilst searching for the elusive Sally I spotted a lone figure in the lobby whom I recognised as George Takei here to support his Heroes costar. Obviously I wasn't the only person not allowed to enter the VIP room. When I did manage to make my way to the VIP room it was only to find they had stopped serving drinks and the show would soon be starting. Great. Now I was thirsty and needed the loo as I spent the entire interval trying to find bloody Sally.

When the play finished I had two options- go to the after show party or stay for the post-play discussion with the actors, director and a leading human rights barrister. I'm glad I chose the later option- the panellists were engaging and eloquent, the intimate setting was nice and we even had the plays author pop up from behind me to chime in with his answer.

Having a small infatuation with the world of celebrity I decided to pop up to the party post-discussion. Maybe it would be a good chance for networking or someone might take me under their wing. I climbed the rather steeps stairs to find some rather tacky decor and lots of rah-types proclaiming "Yah darling" and drinking glasses of wine. I finally went to the toilet and left.

I was left slightly disillusioned by the whole evening and put it down to old-school theatre lovies who weren't in the job for the love of theatre but to get as much free stuff as possible. This saddened me somewhat as, although it started out as a way of getting free tickets, I really do love the theatre and use my reviews as a way of getting more people interested in it. They just saw it as a business- "Yes, well I so soandso yesterday, this tomorrow and I was going to see this the day after but it didn't look very good so we sent the intern, haha!" It upset me that the professional critics could take an art form (that also happens to be many peoples livelihoods as well as their passion) and turn it into a jolly old fraud

A critic's opinion can make or break a show, make everyone involved rich or back on the dole, realise or ruin a dream and yet they treat as a joke. Its all rather sad really.

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