There are various reasons why I won’t be writing a review of Warwick University Drama Society’s production of Pornography (which, incidentally, I’ve now realised is essentially a History Play of the 21st century, documenting a very particular time in our society’s collective development). This is partly down to the fact that, for the past year, I have been in charge of the aforementioned society and, though I haven’t had any direct involvement in the creation of the production, I do at least know the ins-and-outs of its process. There are also a number of close friends and colleagues in the cast and creative team, which would undoubtedly alter the nature of my writing. Crucially, I’m actually not worried about offending them (they know how I feel about the production anyway and I know they can take what I say) but more with the impact that writing about them would have on the implications of my other reviews.
For though the review itself, in a hermetically sealed environment, may manage to weld my prior knowledge with thoughts on the production to say something mildly interesting about it, its very existence within a festival context would raise questions about other pieces I write over the course of this week. To write a review about a friend’s show to which I’ve had a close relationship, whether damning or praising, feels a little awkward when penning ten other reviews throughout the week about which I have very little prior knowledge.
This then raises wider questions about my own integrity as a writer and the compromises we have to consider when commenting on and documenting theatre. Where am I willing to draw the line when it comes to talking about friends? With whom do I decide to take up a pen? If I’ve met someone in the bar the night before and chatted about what they’re up to this week, does this mean I have to be more careful about what I say about their show? I wholeheartedly believe in aninteraction between theatre-maker and theatre-writer, but there is without doubt a point when a foot has to be put down and the writing has to stop. No matter how well-written the review or how accurate it is, if a critic writes about a show their partner has directed, you may question the validity of what’s being said. The problem is, I love theatre people. We all have that same passion in common and it would seem like a waste not to talk, discuss and critique together. The “lone reviewer”, as it were, misses out on that.
So then, what’s the ideal scenario? How much engagement should a critic have with the makers? And how much prior knowledge is preferable? Having an acquaintance with the makers you’re writing about is probably not a Bad Thing and may even bolster the argument of the piece, while a grasp of the questions being discussed allows for greater analytical and intellectual rigour in the deconstruction of the piece in question.
This week, we’re all bumping into each other, chatting about shows and reading one another’s reviews so there will always be a level of expectation that may go unchecked. If we notice it, however, and recognise our own fallibility, there should be no problem; we lay out the facts of circumstance alongside our own judgement in order to remain open and honest.
But I’m still not writing about Pornography.