May 28, 2008, by Peter Kirwan
Love to hate
Have you ever had a production you’ve enjoyed completely ruined for you by talking to other people about it afterwards? There was a Guardian blog some time ago which first got me asking that question, and it’s kinda happened again today. I quite enjoyed the RSC’s new Shrew (not without a great many reservations, I hasten to add) and got some interesting stuff out of it, but have been debating the production at great length with someone who absolutely loathed it. While that doesn’t change my opinion, or the enjoyment I had of my evening out, it does spoil a production somewhat when you find yourself defending it.
That said, I always get infinitely more out of a production for debating it, even if I lose something of the simple enjoyment of it. It deepens and adds to my understanding and often throws up issues that hadn’t even occurred to me, particularly if the person I’m talking to saw a different performance or was viewing and thinking about the play from a specific standpoint. In turn, I’m confident enough nowadays in my own theatre-viewing to make my own case, and point out things that they missed.
I suppose what’s fascinating is that I’m in a business which creates lasting meaning out of ephemeral moments. Most of the people at the Courtyard last night were there for a simple three hours of theatre. So was I, but those three hours also have a lasting impact for me through the writing of reviews and the ongoing addition to my understanding of Shakespeare in contemporary performance. I won’t necessarily be ever writing articles on this production, but it goes into my ‘bank’ of witnessed events that is there to be drawn on should I ever need. And of course, things change in time. Just because I laughed my way through a performance doesn’t mean I’ll still be laughing about it in the morning and I’m liable to be far more criticial, but shouldI be? After all, it was only meant to make me laugh at the time, not beyond. Is it fair, or appropriate, to re-evaluate my response in the cold light of day?
I suppose what I’m saying is that I think, as a reviewer, the reaction in the moment is very important. However much afterwards you rethink your position and wonder "Maybe I shouldn’t have found that as funny as I did" or "That wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it felt at the time", the theatrical experience is primarily geared towards making you feel a certain way at the time, while you’re in direct contact with the production. Of course you can contextualise and analyse your responses afterwards, but I think it’s necessary to hold on to the memory of how you thought and felt at the time. Trust the instinctive response, for there are things that you can’t intellectually justify but remain true regardless.