Features Published 6 February 2015

Give Us Something To Talk About

In the second in a series of pieces to mark the opening for entries of this year's Bruntwood Prize, Megan Vaughan discusses the theatre that makes her want to write about theatre and the relationship between oral and digital culture.
Megan Vaughan

This piece is supposed to be about the theatre that makes me want to write about theatre. When I got the email from Exeunt asking me to do it, I was like “Yeah! Theatre! I love theatre! I love writing about theatre! This is gonna be great!” Woo yeah theatre etc. Let’s rack up some shots and dance with our tops off in celebration of the shows that have CHANGED. OUR. LIVES.

Black Watch. Jerusalem. Three Kingdoms. Quizoola. This Is How We Die. Some of my favourite ever shows, each one has altered my perspective in some way. I think I’ve written about them all at one time or another. I feel lucky to’ve experienced them, and to’ve experienced them at the right time for me, in my own development as a theatregoer, an audience member, a fan, whatever. But are they the theatre that makes me want to write about theatre? Who the fuck knows. Once, maybe. But not today. Theatre is live and transient, and our response to it is irreversibly wedded to a specific time and space and long boring list of a million other factors, from our cashflow to our sex lives. Reflecting on history is helpful in some ways, but it’s not exciting. It’s not dangerous. And it’s not risky. And pretty much the worst thing that a Bruntwood Prize applicant could do with their time is to read up on what backwards-looking arseholes like me have liked in the past.


I read something online recently about “digital culture” having more in common with oral culture than written culture. Y’know, how those who take the piss out of people instagramming sandwiches are erroneously judging our new social practices according to some bullshit twentieth century paradigm. Because to share food, to prepare a communal meal, to break bread together, is one of the most fundamentally social things that humankind can do to experience togetherness. Likewise the selfie: we post selfies because our faces can say much more than 140 characters. It’s not documentation, like BEHOLD! MY FACE, SAVED FOR POSTERITY; it’s communication, like raising an eyebrow, or blowing a kiss, or holding eye contact for that crucial extra beat.


Me, 5 mins before I email this piece to Exeunt.


The first piece of theatre I wrote about on my blog was Antigone at the Royal Exchange, back in October 2008. It’s a total dogshit review, full of all the dull-as-fuck backstory and contextual point- scoring that A-level Theatre Studies had drummed into me six years previously, but the worst thing of all is that I pretended to like it. I’d framed the experience of watching Antigone in so much FACT that it would’ve been churlish to come clean and say that the whole thing made being buried alive actually seem pretty inviting. I sound like a fucking Wikipedia entry. It’s the kind of review that someone who’s never photographed her lunch would write. The kind of review that a selfie-denier would write.

Except, of course, that it wasn’t my first theatre review at all. That was probably in the back of the car on the way home from Babes In The Wood when I was 5, or after The Invisible Man at Greenroom when I was about 8 I think, or after my first Glastonbury with Dad, when I was allowed to stay up really late to see the Skinning The Cat aerial show in the theatre fields behind the Jazz stage. And by the same logic, my most recent theatre review was talking to my housemate last night about going to see A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts for the third time, about how the auditorium at the Tricycle felt surprisingly intimate, and how the wrestling scenes between Billy and Leo had been the best I’d seen so far. And the review before that was the chat I had with the friend who had joined me for that show, who told me in the bar afterwards that she thought its lo-fi, DIY aesthetic was akin to “cultural appropriation” because any show that can afford an 8-strong cast should acknowledge its relative wealth by, oh I dunno, sourcing props made out of gold, or performing in front of a gushing oil well while binging on premium grade coke and white truffles or something.

hulkPlaywriting is just like this. I don’t mean that Hulk gif (well, maybe it is, sometimes) but the whole oral culture thing. So what if you do need to write it down in order to submit to Bruntwood? It’s conversation, written down, and it holds within it the potential for that live, transient experience, wedded to a specific time and space, that can detonate a whole avalanche of thought and opinion from the rest of us, your audiences. The spark is there for love, for laughter, for despair, for arguments between friends about the politics of design. Writing about theatre is just fighting about theatre by another name.

Right. I’ve totally crashed my word count now (oral culture yo) so I’ll get to the point. Playwrights, theatremakers, actors, designers, whoever: Give us something to talk about.

Megan Vaughan blogs at Synonyms for Churlish.

The 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is now open for entries, until 5 June 2015. 

Read Andrew Haydon on the theatre that makes him want to write about theatre.

Main image: Jemima Yong


Megan Vaughan is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine