This review is late. Very late, in fact. Possibly the latest review I have ever written, as normally after a certain period of time passes I try to quietly let things slide underneath the living room rug and then only ever hoover on top of it, never below. For every person who reviews theatre regularly there are always a few things that never surface as actual reviews. The collateral damage of being a theatre reviewer, as it were. It’s a bad practice because having been given a review ticket, you are contractually obliged to uphold your side of the bargain and support the industry by producing the words. It’s actually quite rude not to.
And normally the words are forthcoming. I mean, I do this because I like doing it. I enjoy writing these things so I normally need no prompting to do so. But every once in a while the words don’t come and I keep transferring it from one day’s To Do list to the next, making the vague promise to myself that tomorrow I will totally know what to write about that.
I can visualise what I will look like when doing so. I’ll be sitting at this table with a shiny silver box open in front of me and like the Steve Jobs groupie I am I will be type-typing away. I’ll look pretty official because of the shiny silver box and I’ll be writing. This visualisation part is quite easy as it’s how I look roughly 90% of the time, but this timewasting image in my head doesn’t attack the actual problem which remains: I don’t know what to say.
I think that the reason why this is so worrying is not because of any sense of ‘writer’s block’ – as I can write other things, just not that thing – it’s actually the embarrassment. The embarrassment of having to confront the idea that I’m stupid. Or at least too stupid to understand a show I have seen. Because I am meant to – I am the reviews editor for Exeunt, I have degrees that specifically state that I am literally qualified to talk shit about art, yet sometimes: I just don’t get it. I am at a loss. I fail at my job.
This was the sense I was left with after seeing It Folds, my final show of Mayfest. I just didn’t get it. And reading all the other reviews from people, critics, who apparently did get it made the situation worse. This sense of not getting it and being embarrassed because of it reminded me of Lauren Mooney’s recent article in the Guardian about the embarrassment that makes many of us pretend to like famous works and authors that we either don’t like, or are simply unfamiliar with, in a bid to seem clever and avoid humiliation. Having read the article I thought, maybe it is important to sometimes just admit: I didn’t get it. I have degrees and all that pomp and yet, I didn’t get it. A lot of other people did and I didn’t and that view is of no use to anyone. I cannot imagine that it will appear on the next press release for Brokentalkers and Junk Ensemble: “Exeunt says ‘I don’t get it.’”
But equally it feels like something that we need to do more of both as critics and as the kind of people in general who like to stand in front of artworks or go to the theatre. Cut the crap and admit that sometimes it makes no sense to you.
[So here’s the concluding paragraph, and it really wasn’t pre-planned this way.] Now that I have written this and have thought about how we should be less pretentious, and less inclined to pretend to always have something to say about everything, I suddenly feel like I do get the show. It Folds with its montage of absurdist humour and bizarre careering from topics of great sadness to sketch-show idiocy was perhaps saying exactly that. We’re all just human and all of this, the theatre space and the wider world, is pretty silly. One moment your marriage is falling apart, the next you catch sight of yourself and you look like two ends of a dorky pantomime horse heading in opposite directions. There is nothing to get; it’s not even meant to make sense. But who knows – maybe I’m just avoiding embarrassment by cobbling together something that, ultimately, sounds in a few sentences rather like the review I was trying to avoid writing in the first place.
It Folds was on as part of Mayfest 2016 in Bristol. Click here for more details.