I have three personal rules: Only walk out of a show that I have bought a ticket for, try not to read reviews of a show I am going to see before seeing it, and (because I am not a critic) only do a negative blog for a show which is safe and immune from anything I may write. Usually stick to the first, hopefully stick to the second and third.
So tonight I am home shortly after the interval of This House having paid for my ticket, not read reviews, but feel confident in the stars, transfers and raves to feel my own commentary will do it no harm.
Despite fine writing, fine performances, innovative staging, I could not wait to get out of the theatre at the interval. I found the piece completely dispiriting. Now I don’t know whether, if I had seen it in 2012 I would have felt differently. But here I was watching the style of archaic, combative, misogynistic, blinkered, self-serving power politics which have helped to bring this country and the USA to a terrifying position of ungovernability which we are living through today.
I felt saddened to be British. Saddened to know people who are MPs and servants of the Crown working to stay within the sclerotic system of government we have at the moment. Saddened that we are taking money from punters to see a play which seems to relish the joys of the sculduggery which is perpetuating our decay. In the words of Nick Clegg in the programme “Westminster does not look kindly to compromise: every compromise is soon branded a betrayal in a system which rewards tribal loyalty and abhors the blurring of party boundaries”.
My own dismay was at being in an establishment theatre, watching an establishment play seemingly celebrating the establishment, with an establishment audience. The most awful “echo chamber” to use the oft quoted phrase. There was even a bar at the back of the theatre where first one guy arrived with his daughter explaining to her Clause Four and then two ex politicians arrived and had a big hug and a cheer at how wonderful it was to meet again. They shared stories of their non-exec roles now. I wanted to grab one of the banners from the march on Saturday and stuff it somewhere.
I accept that establishment theatre, for establishment audiences has its place. But I felt that a play about this time, recreated in our times, needed to scream in horror at what we have allowed to unfurl in our lifetimes. I was there 74-79. I studied by candlelight in my school during the 3 days week. I worked as a tea boy in the West End during the power cuts. I feel saddened that nothing seems to have changed.
Yesterday I was in an audience in another Nimex Theatre which felt so so different. It was a glorious mix of couples there for fun, families there for an explore, and theatrefolk there to see it all go horribly wrong. And I am delighted to say Peter Pan went horribly wrong…and I laughed myself happy.
I am pleased I saw This House – mainly because it made me want to read Destiny by David Edgar which I saw at the Aldwych in 1977 about exactly the same period. My memory was that it took sides, scared the living daylights out of the audience, and did not change the world or politics – but it tried to. Only two years later Mrs Thatcher began her cruel reign. 40 years later Johnson/Gove/Farage, their Conservative servants, and Trump have begun to complete her work.
Maybe I should have stayed for Act Two. Maybe I should have read reviews before going in, and before writing this. Maybe I should not have written this. [ I have taken a moment to read Michael Billington to check, amongst his rave, that there was no coup-de-theatre in Act 2 that I missed…nothing mentioned]
So – why my anger, why my blog. Honestly it is a sense of powerlessness. A sense that all the money which has gone into this play, playing to a knowing audience, could have been used differently. But respecting that people I admire, work with, have taught, and champion are all involved. They do so for the right reasons of bringing fine theatre, to fine folk, in a fine theatre.
And I just needed to run away.