English Theatre is Dead
English theatre is dead, playwright Edward Bond declared in an interview last week.
When I read the headline and the subsequent interview I was initially cross, very cross. From a theatre behemoth like Bond it read as the prince bemoaning his gilded cage and lack of opportunity while casually ignoring that every opportunity is available if he could just be bothered rising from his throne. And to a twenty something disabled theatre maker, which due to a series of ideological government policies has less chances than previous generations, it felt like an attack on the work that myself and my peers are attempting to make in difficult circumstances.
But as I began to write this blog post, some of the truth of his words began to unravel. Yes. For a successful playwright whose work is commissioned and shown at London's biggest theatres, there does seem to be a move away from taking chances. Women, BAME and other minority group writers are still part of commission drives and not the establishment, unless your name is Churchill. And don't even get me started on the lack of work for disabled people. These theatres have massive overheads, international reputations and the need to cover costs and dare I say make a profit (I'm not convinced by any business' 'need' to make a profit but that is a different blog). There isn't space for unknown names or provoking theatre.
And then I felt very sad for Edward Bond. His theatrical career has been so entwined in these institutions he has lost sight of the fact that they are not representative of the wider theatrical landscape of England. Could it be I am sympathising with the gilded cage? Yes, I am until I remember it is being in that cage that allows Bond to pick any regional theatre space and find someone very willing to put on his work.
Furthermore, it makes me cross that so much of the work being done outside London is being dismissed, in much the same way the rest of the country is dismissed by London. I've been lucky to be involved in plenty of new writing in the past year; it has been thought provoking, shocking, heartening and in the case of one comedy 'infantile'. A word Bond seems to use with disdain but I think it is as necessary as drama that makes us think. Theatre as with life should cover the whole spectrum of human emotions and behaviours - not everyone is a deep thinker but neither can everyone be a court jester.
I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, especially in something as personal as the perception of art, but can we criticise constructively? Can we as theatre lovers express a desire to see more risks in theatre while recognising that there are companies and practitioners taking huge personal, financial and creative risks in their work every day? Can we as writers express a frustration with a production of our work without descimating the people involved in the national press? Because, after all, we have our own tastes, desires, preferences and without these differences not only would our theatre be more bland, but so our world would be also.