Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

liber-ar-chee!

I’ve always said how clever Brent Meersman is. Last night proved it again. I went to go and see Liberace Liber-ar-chee, a work in progress, at the Intimate Theatre. It was on last night and will be on again tonight. Brent has written the show and it stars Godfrey Johnson, directed by Mark Rayment.

Now, because it is a work in progress, it deserves that kind of discussion. So, I think it has brilliant potential. And it is going to end up being an extraordinary piece.

What I want to say is how we can all learn from putting a ‘work in progress’ on. It’s a fantastic way to launch a new production, create interest in it, show your commitment to the piece, explore the viability of it, see what works and what doesn’t. It generates a very special relationship with an audience – one where, I for one, feel involved with the process, and want to contribute to its development, as opposed to critising a final product.

I like the humility of the process too. Writer, actor and director place themselves in a vulnerable position and then they have to commit to going through it all again the next time.

The business of theatre-making can be a savage one. This glimpse into an ‘almost’ production also gives an idea of how difficult it is to stage anything without a somebody or some organisation throwing big money at it.

So, thanks guys. I enjoyed being part of last night, and now I feel like I have a special interest in the growth and furthering of the show. Godfrey, you are a brilliant Liberace (someone who I always thought was a bit of a moegoe until last night) And Brent, you really are very clever. It’s a treat having you on that side of the world for a change.

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3 Comments

  1. Have Cape Town’s critics gone mad? I believe Brent Meersman has revealed that a script he wrote two years ago has been staged as a work in progress. New sentence: Rafiek Mammon is directing a play at Obs Café. Are the patients taking over the asylum, suffering delusions of creativity, finally venting their frustrated ambitions as artists?

    It’s interesting to be on the other side for a change – playwright, not as critic. I realise what happens and how one quickly loses perspective. You care for the people going up on stage, emotionally. On opening night, you’re only too thankful for where the performers have reached having just had a sleepless night thanks to the utterly disastrous final dress rehearsal. Waves of relief and joy wash over you, because the actors remembered their lines. Then along comes the far removed, uninvolved, unforgiving eyes – usually in the personage of myself, the theatre critic. And that’s how it should be. The audience, who pay money for their seats and for whom the critic writes, is made up of similarly uninvolved strangers. Theatre is a brutal blood sport.

    There is no way anyone can be truly objective about their work after going through what it takes to put a production on stage. But by objective, I don’t mean you can’t be critical; I mean a loss of perspective. The tiniest flaws in the script show up like elephants thundering across the stage to me, though they go unregistered by ninety percent of the audience. In the same moment, I’m applauding the technician for getting the lighting cue right for the first time, while half the audience is complaining inwardly they can’t see what’s going on. Meanwhile, the good critic has made mental notes of all these failings.

    Crossing the line has implications. These are more political than real. The only real ones are ethical. You can’t review your own work. Not everyone in this town has obeyed that rule, alas. And you definitely can’t complain when you are lashed. You dish it, you take it, and it’s up to you to behave professionally as a theatre practitioner for once. And don’t carp that you’re being slated because revenge is sweeter than Christmas for the actors and directors you’ve criticised for years. Mostly, they’re being honest. The great thing about theatre is that you always know it is about whether it works for the audience or not. The rest is opinion, and might be interesting discussion. It’s something I always bare in mind in my own critical reviews. I know my objections don’t invalidate the experience for other people.

    The other danger is exposing oneself to the knee-jerk reaction which usually takes the form – “Oh, God, does he [the critic] suddenly think he can do better now?” The logic is faulty. Since you’ve been pointing out everyone else’s faults, it’s fully understandable that some people in the industry will react that way. But it’s not about doing better. It’s about what you want to communicate to your audience. It’s got nothing to do with anybody else’s work. Theatre directors criticise one another’s work mercilessly. You don’t have to write like Shakespeare to be able to criticise Shakespeare.

    In my own case, I was involved in theatre productions and writing scripts for ten years before I – with some reservation frankly – donned the critic’s fedora. There have been many playwrights that were also critics. George Bernard Shaw was drama critic for years under the thinly veiled pseudonym ‘GBS’. Everyone knew it was him. The great critic Kenneth Tynan wrote a box office success and was Laurence Olivier’s right hand man when the latter was artistic director for the National Theatre. John Lahr, The New Yorker’s current theatre critic, just created Elaine Stritch’s world wide successful one woman hit show. Our own Alan Swerdlow is an excellent critic and a theatre director.

    I think critics who straddle the divide are better critics. There is no guarantee, but at least a critic who has been involved has a fuller and more rounded understanding and a sharpened passion for the theatre. Failed writers don’t usually become critics, they become academics. And as much as I believe great playwrights can make lousy critics, I doubt a lousy critic can ever be good at anything. It’s amazing they find their way back to where they parked their cars.
    At the end of the day, whoever they are and on whatever side of the line they live mostly, they are as good as what they produce. Some are better at being critics than practitioners; some great playwrights and directors make terrible critics; some are modestly competent on both sides. Right now, I’m not giving up my day job. – Brent Meersman

  2. The Saint

    These are my thoughts as set otu in Brent’s Blog ~
    Interesting perspective. To me the quick-sand of being both critic and practitioner is one of potential conflict of interest and perhaps it is my lawyerly background that makes me sensitive [over-sensitive?] to this aspect. To state the obvious, a critic needs, in my view, to be entirely objective about the work that he reviews otherwise his opinions must be open to criticism in turn. So I ask can you crit a play that is competing with yours for audiences? [If the crit’s play has had luke-warm reviews and the competing play deserves a real goodie ……] Do you need to qualify your crit with a disclosure of your interest?

    The whole issue is very difficult and may in the end come down to the integrity of the person concerned and how that integrity is perceived by others.

    But let no one hear me as discouraging anyone from staging new work – the more the merrier.

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