I hope you have noticed that I have been writing reviews for Weekend Special, Cape Town’s newest and most comprehensive online arts and lifestyle magazine, started and curated by Karen Rutter and Jane Mayne, two vital and veteran arts journos, contributors, editors and theatre and music lovers. It has been an honour writing for the website that has made an enormous impression on the arts in Cape Town since it started up in December.
I have written about plays, movies, series and even a restaurant, and it has been such fun. One of the best parts has been that I have gone to preview screenings of the NT Live productions. I was absolutely transformed by St Joan, and Hedda Gabler, was awe struck by Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, and have a few on my list that I am so excited about (tomorrow I will see Emelda Staunton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).
What has been such an eye opener has been that even the famous, experienced and visionary theatre makers in the UK don’t always get it right. Last week I saw Obsession, directed by the amazing Ivo van Hove, with Jude Law, and it was truly horrible. It was agonisingly horrible. And without sounding like I am gloating, there is something so comforting in knowing that even the masters get it wrong.
Of course, the lesson is that we can all fail when trying to make theatre (or any art actually), but it is the trying that is so important. Here, at home the rules of engagement are so different, and so much of the theatre (and film) we make is terribly, boringly safe. Safety can be in what is expected of us, or it can be in having a proper, paying job, or it can be doing the same thing over and over again. Safety is low risk, low challenge, low stakes theatre, to get by. Low risk theatre is easy to make, needs short rehearsal times, and short cuts on everything including the massive commitment needed to make a show. And then, add meek critics to this; those that would rather not say if something is bad because they don’t want what tiny audience there is to stay away, and theatre is dead in the water. Nobody wants to see stuff that hardly blows air up your skirt.
Now, before everyone gets hysterical, I am totally generalising, because it is a miracle that so much great theatre IS made here, in spite of how ball achingly hard it is, and how we have none of the support, money, sponsorship, subsidy, history and culture of theatre attendance and theatre vocabulary that the UK has. I know. But there is something so extraordinary about a spectacular failure, as opposed to a whimper. And I just don’t see that here.