Deadly Theatre makes way for The Inheritance: My pick for 2018
✨ LUCY EATON
In 1968 Peter Brook wrote that theatre of the day “not only fails to elevate or instruct, it hardly even entertains". For me, too often this is still the case: Deadly Theatre is here to stay.
So, since 2013 I've been an Interval Leaver. This Friday night I walked out of a multi Olivier Award winning production because I was falling asleep embarrassingly frequently in the first half. But I assure you, despite opening with this statement, my blasé attitude to leaving halfway doesn't at all come from an egotistical desire to laud my opinions over everyone or make some kind of grand statement; as I explained to a less frequent theatre-goer recently, it simply comes from a life "well-theatred". I see productions so frequently that they lose their lustre and shine with only the truly magnificent standing out (I can't imagine how the agents and casting directors of this world feel. I have one very close friend who left her fabulous agenting job partly for this very reason: she had grown to hate theatre because she was drowning in it!) The first day I walked out of a show at the interval I felt liberated, in the true sense of the word. I felt free, rescued from the fate of having to endure theatre that is not to my taste, just because I'd already paid for my ticket. Suddenly I was strangely less judgemental of things I didn't like, less angry at productions I felt were a waste of my time, because I simply didn't let them waste my time. I left.
Now obviously, I've been on the other end too. I am an actress as well as a producer, and of course I would rather my audiences stuck it out until the end, giving me their rapt attention when I'm working my hardest to entertain them on stage. But if I (or the play or the production) am failing in that, of course I'd rather they leave than shuffle in their seats and look up at my grumpily during the curtain call.
When you work in the theatre, there's a strange awkwardness that friends within the industry develop. It's an awkwardness specially saved for those moments when you see a piece that you absolutely hate but you are watching because there's a friend in the cast... What do you say afterwards over a drink in the Pit Bar?? What words can you possibly use when you're queuing up for a g&t in the Green Room of the National? For my money, "Actually I hated it but well done!" is the most suitable option. Sometimes honesty really is the best policy. Certainly in the case of theatre, because theatre is subjective. “Well done for the effort and the talent you clearly displayed, but the show itself didn’t do it for me”. My opinion doesn't negate the whole production, nor should anyone's, but my opinion is my opinion and should not be something I’m worried about causing offence with.
I personally couldn't stand the Donmar Warehouse's iconic Julius Caesar (the first of what became the "Shakespeare Trilogy"). That's not to say that it wasn't an enormous and well-deserved success. That's not to say that I didn't appreciate how much Josie Rourke, Phyllida Lloyd and their teams opened Shakespeare up to a whole new generation. That's not to say that many of the actors in it aren't deeply talented performers who were undoubtedly giving their all. It was just not for me. That's all.
But I digress. The Donmar trilogy is a good example of theatre with an audience in mind, just not me. Too often nowadays though, I feel like theatre is made with no audience in mind. And surely this is what Peter Brook was getting at most when he discussed Deadly Theatre. We ought to be holding our theatre-makers accountable for making work that an audience actually wants to see, rather than theatre that feels like it was made to appease a lead actor or to inflate a director's ego. Let us never forget that theatre is only there because of the audience. "A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged". In Go People’s run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2016 we were met with total ambivalence from critics but our audiences were apoplectic with joy. We had a handful of audience members who even returned multiple times to bring other friends. We felt like we’d done our job.
And so, on to the main event. In the last few years, I don’t think I’ve seen many things that have the audience in mind more than Matthew Lopez’s utterly extraordinary The Inheritance. If you haven’t booked your tickets, do. not. waste. any. more. time. In years to come, you will want to be one of the people who saw this inaugural production.
It‘s epic and it draws almost every kind of emotional response from its audience. Over the course of Parts 1 and 2 I cackled with laughter, I audibly gasped (hand over the mouth, comic-book image style gasp), and I cried until the snot was running down my face. I wasn’t alone. I know this because I heard the sniffles of my fellow audience members caught off guard without a tissue, I felt the seats shake with laughter and I saw in the eyes of everyone leaving that we all thought we’d seen something really rare.
Like all great theatre, The Inheritance is there to teach us a lesson or 2 (without question), and certainly it opened my eyes enormously to a plight I have certainly not given enough thought to: the loss of a generation of mentors to an already discriminated against pool of people, but above that it really felt like it was there to entertain. It was there to offer the audience 7 fabulous and flawless hours of escapism. Yes 7 hours. And I typically LOATH long theatre. I almost always think something long would have gained by being shorter. But this-!! I know I’m not the first to make the comparison, but it felt like a great TV binge watch, only live and thus even more thrilling. At each interval I was desperate to see what the next “episode” contained. It is a production that - from the moment it begins - holds your hand, pulls you in and promises to deliver laughter, tears, twists and turns.
I’m wary of saying any more because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will make this one final statement: the end of Part 1 is - for me - one of the most powerful moments in theatre that I have ever seen and probably ever will see.
Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry and every member of the exemplary cast (Kyle Soller totally took my breath away, but they all deserve mention to be honest) and creative team had the audience in mind from start to finish. And for that I say thank you.
As my brother exclaimed on returning home from seeing the full thing, “I wasn’t prepared for that!”
I wish we were so sublimely unprepared for more theatre.
What else did I love this year:
Hamilton - Victoria Theatre
The York Realist - Donmar Warehouse
St Nicholas - Donmar Warehouse
Quiz - Noël Coward Theatre / Chichester Theatre
Everyone's Talking About Jamie - Apollo Theatre
Killer Joe - Trafalgar Studios
Dreamgirls - Savoy Theatre