Me: What did you do that for?
Also me: Do what?
Me: Volunteer to review a play! You know you hate theatre.
Also me: I do not hate theatre. I like lots of plays. I just didn’t get on with this one.
Me: That’s not what you said in the interval. In the interval you said it was the kind of thing that gives British theatre a bad name and you wanted to walk out.
Also me: Yes but I **could** have liked it is my point. That Vivienne Franzmann play about surrogacy at the Royal Court was fucking brilliant. This was surrogacy AND heteronormativity in gay relationships: Sign. Me. Up.
Placatory me: You were probably just unlucky with the performance you know – it was a Monday night, they needed to warm back up to it.
Me: I know what you mean but this was **so** off-key. The whole first section was like trying to listen to an album before it’s been mixed when all the volume settings are wrong; in the second was one of the worse instances of corpsing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a lot.
Me who advocates for non-judgemental criticism: But that’s kind of irrelevant: as a set of ideas it was super interesting. If you did a Sick of the Fringe-style Diagnosis on this you’d have heaps to say –
Non-judgemental criticism me: – fuck off – about the effects of the campaign for equal marriage rights on the gay rights movement, queer arguments against assimilation, the ways in which surrogacy puts stress on patriarchal ideas around human ownership… I could go on.
Also me: And if I’d walked out in the interval, I’d have missed that gas flare of a speech in which the older man tells his younger husband – 14 years his junior – that walking down the aisle isn’t part of gay history. That line “if you wanna be part of our history go to the toilets in Charing Cross and get on your fucking knees, that’s our fucking history” sizzled.
Me: Yes but the rest of the scene – the whole play, in fact – was so repetitive, lines recurring in a way that I guess was aiming at emotional realism but clunked harder with every appearance. Unless – just thinking aloud here – the point was for us in the audience to notice the different weight each time a line was said, and maybe question the ways in which memory mishapes –
Impatient livid me: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? HOW CAN YOU TALK ABOUT ANYTHING HERE EXCEPT THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SCENE? YOU’RE BRUSHING OVER IT IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS THE PLAY DOES AND YOU KNOW – YOU KNOW! – THAT’S REPREHENSIBLE.
Me: All right, calm down, I was coming to that. It feels deeply problematic –
Impatient me: Errrr remember the first version of Selina Thompson’s Salt when she made it **very clear** what a mealy mouthed word problematic is.
Me: Fine! **I** had a **massive problem** with the way in which the play dealt with domestic violence. It feels like a plot point: OK, there’s a lot of backstory, it’s suggested that the older man was physically abused by his father, and made explicit more than once that his brother abuses his wife, but both times it’s this bizarrely insinuatory thing, or rather, used specifically to goad that character into a explosive display of anger that, in the first instance, expresses itself with him overpowering and hurting his husband and, in the second, with an acid spray of misogyny targeted at every woman on the stage. Both times the play moves swiftly on – worse, the second time the older man is told by his husband that his behaviour in the second instance was “heroic” – and although it’s an open question throughout whether the younger man really wants to stay in the relationship, he never acknowledges that his equivocal feelings might have anything to do with being scared. Which left me thinking: what the fuck is that about? What kind of culture is being reinforced here? A culture in which people don’t talk about their experiences of violence, being overpowered, being humiliated, but just accept them? OK, the younger husband behaves abominably in that scene – but there’s never an excuse for that kind of violence, ever.
Also me: You realise you’ve just zoomed in on details and not actually told anyone reading this anything coherent or sensible about the play, don’t you?
Impatient me: Oh sod that: that’s what Lyn Gardner is there for.
Of Kith and Kin is on until 25 November 2017 at the Bush Theatre. Click here for more details.