Lyn Gardner

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Today The Stage has published an open letter to The Guardian protesting at its sacking of Lyn Gardner. Lyn has been a theatre critic for the newspaper for over 20 years and has been remarkable in her attention to the experimental, the cross-artform, to small companies, to regional theatre. While the paper's first-string critic, Michael Billington, is, of course, an important writer on the plays of national attention, Lyn complements this wonderfully offering a vision of the future.

The Guardian have decided not to renew her contract. I don't want to downplay The Guardian's problems; they, like a lot of journalism, are finding it hard to transition from a world of print, funded by newspaper buyers and print advertising, to a world of online news and diminishing, thinly-spread digital advertising. They do have to make cuts, but this, I think, is not where they should make them.

When the news broke last week, I drafted a letter fairly quickly and sent it round to a few friends and contacts asking them to add their names and to send it on to their lists. David Lan was the first to say yes and the names then started pouring in. Some of the signatories made valuable suggestions about changes to the text of the letter (particular thanks to Dennis Kelly and Tom Morris for improvements).

Eventually I had around 120 names, representing a huge range of British theatre, including the artistic directors of the Royal Court, the National Theatres of Scotland and Wales, The Bush, The Orange Tree, The Gate, The Yard, The Almeida, Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum, The Traverse, the Liverpool Everyman Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Manchester's Royal Exchange, Lancaster's The Dukes, Northern Stage, Chichester Festival Theatre, Contact Theatre, Forced Entertainment, Theatr Clywd, Battersea Arts Centre, Graeae, Out of Joint, Third Angel, Forest Fringe, Slung Low, Tamasha, Made in China, Improbable, Action Hero, Filter, Punchdrunk and more - plus individual artists and theatre makers including Tim Crouch, April De Angelis, Alistair McDowall, Tanya Moodie, Katie Mitchell, David Eldridge, Lucy Kirkwood, Wendy Houston, Lucy Prebble, Chris Goode, David Harrower, Lindsey Turner, Nic Green, Bryony Kimmings, Lou Brealey, Rory Mullarkey, Melly Still, Moira Buffini, Jack Thorne, James Graham, Zinnie Harris, Stephen Daldry, David Edgar, Duncan McMillan, Stella Duffy, Shelley Silas, Roy Williams and still more. More names have come in since I sent the letter off. At some points emails were coming in so thick and fast, I'm worried I ay have missed some. But it's a powerful statement of support - and it's not often you get thearre makers supporting a critic.

You can read a short article about the letter here and the text of the letter and full list of signatories here.

There's a Howard Barker play, A Hard Heart, in which a genius is charged with defending a city under siege. In transforming every aspect of the city into a technology for prosecuting a defensive counterattack, the city loses all of the values it was trying to defend. I'm reminded of that so often these days.

I hope The Guardian listen.

Naturalism and Pornography

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I'm giving a public lecture with the title ‘The Curtain Will Remain Up: Naturalist Theatre and the Problem of Pornography’. It's part of my book on Naturalist theatre, which is a form of theatre developed in the last third of the nineteenth century which has gone on to become one of the key influences on theatre, film and television, globally, in the twentieth century and beyond. 

Naturalism was founded on the principle that one should represent everything, without flinching, even the most sordid and disgusting aspects of contemporary life. That included such taboos as prostitution, venereal disease, incest, abortion and more. This led some critics to accuse the Naturalists (like Zola and Ibsen) of producing little more than pornography.

The Naturalists denied this, insisting that their attitude to these scandalous topics was like a surgeon dissecting a diseased cadaver. They had no interest except to diagnose the causes of these problems and, in doing so, suggest a cure.

Generally, theatre historians tend to endorse the Naturalists’ position and treat the critics as prudes and conservatives. But the situation may be more complicated than that. In this talk, I'll talk about some of the little-known stories of Naturalist theatre and its enemies, from the obsessive anti-Naturalist Ambroise Macrobe, the mischievous Professor Desjardins, Zola’s secret scenario, and the curious case of the Théâtre Réaliste.

The talk is open to the public and takes place on 7th February 2018, 7:30pm at the Swedenborg Hall, London WC1A 2TH. I am pretty sure it's going to be livestreamed HERE.

Further information HERE.  

Whoblique Strategies

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There's a new book just out, published in aid of Children in Need. It's called Whoblique Strategies and it's a fusion of Bowie and Doctor Who. What in God's name does that mean? The 'Oblique Strategies' is a series of cards with slightly cryptic advice on them designed to make artists rethink their work, get them out of a hole, shake up their habituated ways of working. These gnomic little prompts - 'ASK YOUR BODY', DISCOVER THE RECIPES YOU ARE USING AND ABANDON THEM' - were co-created by Brian Eno and used by him when working with David Bowie on the Berlin trilogy.

Elton Townsend Jones is an actor and writer and also a Doctor Who fan and he assembled a group of likeminded fans to write short (200-word) pieces on every Doctor Who story from An Unearthly Child in 1963 to the mini-episode that introduced Jodie Whittaker this year. And each person was given an Oblique Strategy to shape or prompt or confuse the bit of writing.

I did the pieces for The Carnival of Monsters, The Deadly Assassin, Vincent and the Doctor and Knock Knock. They were fun to do and I'm delighted to be part of the project. You can order the book on Amazon UK and Amazon US.