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Grievance culture is not unproblematic

Julian Ovenden and Gillian Anderson in All About Eve.

How seriously should theatre-goers take a reviewer that keeps using the word problematic?

Not seriously at all, obviously.

A trend that, arguably, represents everything rotten & self-destructive about the industry currently. Imposing self righteous 21st century values on the past also means work is now regularly dismissed: sight unseen.

Who needs creative expression anyway? Balance? Forget it.

It’s like Brexit it goes from bad to worse

In an industry that has only recently begun to grapple with the equality issues that have bedevilled it, progress has been made on representation & visibility.

But where does all this agenda-driven, middle class self-loathing & guilt tripping actually lead? Well, it is initially on display in the current crop or preachy ‘woke’ commentary that is entrenched in mainstream culture. See: Theatre Twitter / Exeunt & an increasing number of The Stage’s reviews.

Berkoff as Harvey Weinstein. Photograph credit: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

Berkoff as Harvey Weinstein. Photograph credit: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

Steven Berkoff recently directed himself in Harvey, a one-man show about Weinstein, at the Playground theatre, London. The play attempts to delve into the disgraced movie mogul.

The Guardian went and awarded it 2 stars. This was a workshop run of a new play by an 81 year old man. Press were not invited – they went anyway. Tabloid stuff innit.

Berkoff may not be to everyone’s taste and the timing is undeniably questionable (too soon etc) but he is a man with an international profile & reputation for cutting-edge theatre (East, Salome and Decadence) Berkoff is also one of the foremost actors of his generation. To write him off for having a scrotum & daring to tackle this material is churlish.

Every year a rotating number of individual voices rise above the usual noise on social media but the stupidity remains ritualised. Everyone is offended – everything is problematic. Even Mary Poppins is racistyou know.

Long term, as others are often too scared to point out, though, it’s hardly an unconnected surprise to learn that critics are being culled & informed mainstream coverage is in decline. Who wants to read this stuff? Modern life is already miserable enough as it is.

It’s always a case of fine margins, of course, with The Stage & increasingly The Guardian which are both regularly condemning patriarchy in a campaign that can best be described as annoying.

It is, though, hard to escape the sense that all concerned are going through the motions – effortlessly, sometimes brilliantly – but going through the motions, none the less. Chasing trends rather than setting them.

All About Eve

All About Eve

This week, I visited the Noel Coward to see Ivo Van Hove’s production of All About Eve. The play is based on the classic 1950 film, that sees Bette Davis as an ageing star under siege from a manipulative aspiring actress.

Gillian Anderson & Lily James are great & I found it compelling. Technical wizardry aside, the vital element in the brilliance of All About Eve is that the direction & cast are of a phenomenally high standard. Truly.

Anyway, in a review for Time OutAndrzej Łukowski commented: “Her appearance is the first sense that any women exist in this world, and she’s there to mourn, repent, and care for a suffering man, not to have her own agency.” ‘Written in a very different era, ‘All About Eve’ is not totally unproblematic in its depiction of female ambition and its relationship to female bodies. But it is still pretty potent, and apt, and you can see why it appealed to Van Hove.’

All About Eve is geared toward the #MeToo era; most of the audiences are young, smart females. I used to enjoy reading first night reviews. Now, so often, the recurring themes and language around the same complaints about ‘all male’ creative teams week-after week mean that those writing about theatre have talked themselves into an opinion.

By which I mean give me strength –  let’s not get carried away chaps, it’s just people jumping on an obvious bandwagon.

Stay strong, readers.

All About Eve is at the Noël Coward theatre, London, until 11 May.