World Stages London - Mentoring Circle
Each venue taking part in the World Stages London season sent along two people to get involved in the 'mentoring circle', which included seeing every show, giving feedback and attending discussions.
I was asked some questions about the season, which included Three Kingdoms by Simon Stephens and Babel by BAC and Wildworks:
• There's been considerable controversy surrounding critics' responses to both Three Kingdoms and Babel - do you think theatre goers are starting to pay more attention to reviews from members of the general public than journalists? Do you think blogs, social media and vox pops are a more useful way of reviewing a show than a traditional review?
Everyone always says they want to encourage 'new' audiences to the theatre. The majority of people who read print reviews by 'important' critics are usually already theatre goers anyway. It seems to make sense then, to give equal credit to reviews done on blogs/social media etc - as these are the mediums that are actually encouraging new audiences to get involved. It is traditionally ingrained in most industries to value a positive review from a 'big' name paper or critic - I doubt that will change any time soon and there is a value in it. But I certainly would be more likely to go to a show suggested by people I know or those on Twitter - especially those I'm aware share my taste.
• The team from Lyric Hammersmith have mentioned how different it was working with a German director, as in their theatre culture a play is very much the director's vision rather than the writer's,as is more common in the UK. So the final production of Three Kingdoms was the result of the director's interpretation of the writer's work- there were even extra scenes added. Did you think this was evident when you saw the show? Do you think it's a way of working that British theatre might begin to adopt?
I think this was evident and for me it wasn't a positive thing. German theatre also revives lots of classics - so it makes sense that it then becomes a director's vision as most likely the writer is dead and the times in which the text is being staged are very different. When working with new writing, I'm not sure that this approach is beneficial in its outcome and I would hope that it doesn't become a way of working that British theatre might adopt. Mostly because I'm a writer and this would - generally, though there could be exceptions for the right collaboration - be very annoying!
• Some of the sets have had a great impact on audiences and received a lot of praise- do you think theatres need to up their game with visual effects as it becomes harder to keep an audience's attention? (as we become more and more used to overly stimulant experiences like TV, action movies and video games and our attention spans decrease!)
No, not at all. In fact, the shows that I've seen this year that have really had a lasting impact on me have been those with the simplest sets - almost nothing. The power needs to be in the story. I think theatre competing with the mediums mentioned above - TV, action movies etc, is a strange approach. Theatre has its own power and by being proud of its basics it can offer something those other mediums can't.
• There's been some discussion around the significance of the female roles in Three Kingdoms and the lack of female lead roles in Babel- do you think this is representative of the role of women in the theatre industry at the moment?
With the exception of Wild Swans, all of the shows I've seen in WSL (and I haven't yet seen Wah Wah Girls) have been heavily male-dominated. In characters, writers and directors. Those which do feature female characters do so in a stereotypical way and it is never really their story - it is always that of the male protagonists. Although this is representative of the state of produced story-telling throughout the world at the moment; I am hugely disappointed that this is the case in something that was specifically programmed to represent the diversity of London. By not ensuring gender parity (52% of the population are female) in terms of protagonists, it is impossible to say that representing diversity has been achieved.