Wednesday, 20 May 2009

What me, a cultural critic?

Who the hell am I to judge culture? If I knew how to knit, maybe I would stick to it, but I have always skated on a thin veneer of knowledge, so why should my relationship with culture be any different?

My only recent qualification is having seen a fair amount of theatre in a short space of time. Here is a layman's view of four of them.

The one where the film was better than the play
Matinees are special - worth the ticket price just for the feeling of coming out blinking into daylight - the sunnier it is, the better the guilty feeling. At the National Theatre, in an audience of hundreds of pensioners I saw
'Burnt by the Sun', a Russian play set during the inception of Stalin's purges. Based on a recent film, it left me aching to see the movie. Despite the usual National Theatre Lavishness, I am not sure what a stage production added. Maybe I need to see the film before judging.

The one where the book was better than the play
Then, at the Arcola,
Monsters told the story of the Jamie Bulger murder. I chose this because I loved As if, Blake Morrison's profoundly moving account of the same events. Written by Niklas Rådström, a Swedish Playwright, I expected those new insights that sometimes only foreign writers can bring to a situation. Instead, we received a far too generalised message, removed from the cultural context, especially around class and place, that Morrison mined to make his book so compelling.

The one where the Play was not a Play, or a Dance, or anything else
My fellow Clore Fellow Kate produced a piece with the
Clod Ensemble, set in the Village Underground, a warehouse in Hackney. I am not even going to go close to trying to describe or critique this piece of theatre, but the music and movement gave me strange dreams for days.

The one where Children's Theatre may improve on the original
Finally, at the Unicorn, I took my nine year old and her half-Spanish friend to
Twelfth Night. The kids occasionally lost the plot, and thought Shakespeare 'mad' for 'using old-fashioned language', but it was engaging enough for them to want to stick with it. Barely pared down, let alone dumbed down, for the audience of over-10s, the production squeezed everything it could out of its small and versatile cast and set. One soliloquy was given new meaning through its transformation into an indie-boy ballad. Best of all, an actress chose my knee to sit on over Jude Law's.

Other highlights: England at the Whitechapel, and the magical Coraline in 3D.

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