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.

New Theatre in North Kensington – The Playground Theatre opens its doors to local community on June 17

Peter Tate
Peter Tate

Peter Tate

On June 17, between 11am and 1.00pm, London’s newest theatre is hosting an open morning for residents and community groups in the area.  The Playground Theatre, which is set to become the only theatre in North Kensington, will open its doors to offer a sneak preview of what will be on offer when the first production is staged there this autumn. With family friendly entertainment as part of the morning, this is an opportunity to see the facilities, experience the auditorium, soak up the atmosphere and sample the sumptuous café at Latimer Road and Ladbroke Grove’s new venue.

Work began last year to transform this former bus depot into a state of the art theatre.  The Playground Theatre will stage a vibrant, exciting and entertaining programme of work that aims to engage and involve the local community at the same time as attracting audiences from across London and beyond.

The hosts on the morning will be founder of The Playground Theatre, actor, producer and local resident Peter Tate along with his co-artistic director Anthony Biggs, former artistic director of Jermyn Street Theatre.  Together, they will both be on hand to convey their vision for the venue and explain what the theatre will offer in terms of programming.

Previously the Playground has had a long history of supporting artists to create their theatrical visions. Having won the Samuel Beckett award for innovative theatre and worked with many world-class artists, in its new role as a fully functioning venue, The Playground Theatre will continue working with both established and emerging artists to strive to create work that is bold and imaginative, whilst fully engaging the rich diversity of the community of which it is part.

Designed by Latimer Road based architects Jonathan Mizzi Studio, The Playground Theatre will have a seating capacity of 150 to 200, a totally flexible stage, a full lighting rig, a state of the art sound system and two dressing rooms.  The theatre will also include a sumptuous front of house area, which will house the box office and a café bar serving throughout the day.

With the celebrated actors Celia Imrie and Cherie Lunghi and the great ballerina Lyn Seymour as patrons, The Playground’s artistic policy will have excellence at it’s heart and, as the name implies, it will also be a place for risk, experimentation and play.

The opening season for The Playground will be announced later in the Summer

Tate originally founded The Playground in 2001 as a space to allow artists the time and freedom to explore and play with their theatrical ideas without the pressure to force their work into a box too early.  Since then it has played host to and supported some of most dynamic theatrical talent from the UK and around the world, both established and emerging, as well as film and television companies. Artists, who have worked their, include Hideki Noda, Japan’s acclaimed actor, director and playwright, Henryk Baranowski, winner of both Poland’s and Russia’s top award as director, Marcello Magni, co-founder of Complicite and John Caird. Others including Simon McBurney and Rufus Norris have used the space many times to create some of their finest work. When it opens as a theatre it will continue its function as a development and rehearsal studio during the day welcoming artists to create new work and consolidating its reputation for play and experimentation
The Playground will also function as a local amenity with café bar and a programme of community engagement activity

Peter Tate says
“Many members of our local community are aware that we will be opening a new theatre but there are many who are not and this open morning will give us the opportunity not only to explain  the kind of work we will be doing but also to listen to your ideas. We want our community to feel part of the creative process at The Playground Theatre.  We look forward to welcoming you.”

11am to 1pm

The Playground Theatre
Unit 8
Latimer Road
W10 6RQ