Stillpoint Theatre


This year, because money was tight and I happened to have May to myself, I decided to offer my services as a reviewer. It seemed to be the only way I could afford to engage with a deliciously large chunk of the Brighton Festival and Fringe programme and not go further into the red. The irony being that to be ‘involved in the arts’ means one so rarely has the time and money in the same place, in a way that facilitates being ‘involved in the arts’. I also thought it would be an interesting personal challenge to put thoughts and feelings on paper about other artists’ practises in a way that might open up debate.


William Forsythe,
Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time No.2.
Brighton Festival 2014.


I saw some amazing work. Some worryingly awful work. I saw quite a lot of ok ambitious work that didn’t quite cut the mustard (for me). Also some deliciously lo-fi pieces that were messy but brilliant; Jane Bom-Bane’s Long Lost River Song and Red Herring‘s Funny Peculiar tour, were just such things. Also, the marvellously rough hewn George Egg’s Anarchist Cook show at Upstairs Three and Ten. Some of my favourite pieces were the free installations and the outdoor works that encouraged us to notice and participate in natural choreographies. Charlotte Spencer Project’s Walking Stories was a beautiful experience of this, as was the William Forsythe piece posted above. Jacob Dahlgren’s installation (see below) was another an invitation to physical play.


On Balance.
Jacob Dahlgren
Brighton Festival


I loved that we had a Spiegeltent in town again. A festival hub and a delightfully Brighton-centric lucky dip of a programme.

And reviewing was tough.
Much tougher than I’d imagined.
Anyone who thinks it is as easy as a free ticket and a few words on a page should try it some time!!
Perhaps it is a bit like the tantalising promise of an open relationship, v/s the emotional chaos it forces you to wrangle with in reality.
I don’t know, I haven’t tried polyamory, so I am likely talking out of my arse.

Anyway, a bit like polyamory, I could anticipate there might be some pitfalls.
And some weren’t immediately obvious:

1. Shitting in one’s own bed
For obvious reasons, I was careful to avoid reviewing friends’ work – the few exceptions were when no other reviewer had picked it up and / or when I felt safe I would very likely love it. My other tactic was to try to focus on areas that weren’t obviously my professional forte – dance, music, outdoor work etc. The problem there turned out to be that I ended up with little time spare to see stuff made by my friends and work closer to my own influences.

By way of example, I was down to review a friend’s dance piece at the Dome. I suspected I would love the work. No one else on the team had picked it up, so I grabbed the chance. Then, I ran into the artist the night before his show. He expressed concern that the Festival had moved them into a different venue last minute and that the show wouldn’t translate. I quickly gave the job to someone else and paid for a ticket instead. I didn’t want to risk seeing the show when it wasn’t as he’d hoped. As it turned out, I adored it, but it was a wise move and one I didn’t regret.

2. ‘Online, you are only ever 3 comments away from being Hitler’.
A friend of mine who used to work in the marketing department of Second Life, mentioned this quote to me when i was trying to explain my reviewing dilemma. It basically means that because of the sensorially anorexic, binary nature of the online medium, your comments mostly read more loudly than intended, no matter how they are nuanced in your head. Something mildly critical can read like a ten tonne truck of opinion crashing into your front room. So comments like ‘the worst thing I have ever seen on stage’ or ‘that actor was so irritating I wanted to kill her’, free of tonal and contextual information, reads like the opinion-equivalent of a cluster bomb. In conversation, with eye contact and context, it would be a completely different experience.

Also, artists are such sensitive creatures. We are kind of by necessity, I think. I am vulnerable to a negative criticism – no matter what my brass, it stings a bit. I can get a million compliments and the one negative criticism will throw me into the kind of self-punishing navel-gaze-fest that would bore the tits off a half dead camel.

(Don’t think about the camel thing for too long.)

Other artists made of stronger stuff might just let it go and the best and worst amongst us, might simply say ‘fuck you!’. Well, ‘fuck me!’ in this case. Ouch!


Here’s a picture of a cute baby to distract you from my terrible camel analogy.


Ah, that’s better, isn’t it?!
So I wanted to be sensitive to all that.

3. Being honest, really honest in public, is tough, goddamn it.
It takes courage, gut instinct and heart muscle. It also requires tact, discretion and compassion. I wasn’t confident I was going to be able to deliver on all those fronts. I don’t know if I even came close. I decided to try and approach everything with love and be honest with myself. And… I was met with the hall of mirrors realisation that my honesty is so deeply subjective, that it can only ever hope to speak to a tiny portion of people’s experience. It is a case of rinsing it through and rinsing it through and getting as clear as I can. Trying not to get lost in a hall of mirrors existential crisis. Sooo different to the world of metaphor, symbol and ‘what if…?’.

4. Opinions are like arse-holes; everyone’s got one.
I wasn’t fully prepared for this one. I mean I know that opinions are as diverse as fingerprints. I also know that people like to agree and sometimes they like to disagree; mostly we want to be liked or respected, or controversial, or what ever other motivation might be going on. My meditation practice teaches me that as long as we are debating who is right and who is wrong, then both of us are losing. How do I stay open to influence, whilst also staying true? Yeah, yeah, all of that and yet… and yet, I was being asked to deliver An Opinion. Put my ‘cock on the block’ as it were. What I hadn’t anticipated was the realisation that I didn’t care enough about my own opinions at the end of the day, to have them clanging around the virtual universe like so much more cognitive ballast. It is the fixed nature of it I struggle with; the way it masquerades as authority – a fixed, unquestioning thing. It goes against one of the things I think theatre does best – reflecting on moral complexity and the ever changing nature of experience.

So all this leads me to the suspicion that:

5. Being a practitioner and a reviewer is a bit of a dysfunctional marriage.
Even though we artists are qualified for the partnership in a certain kind of way, there is something in our (my) temperament that makes us a bit of a liability. It is like our value systems don’t line up. Perhaps it is a left brain right brain thing. Perhaps it is about singularity or linearity v/s a kind of gestalt complexity. Or maybe it is about opinion being so much less interesting to me than wondering.

Or maybe I just can’t bloody settle.

What ever it is, this experience has taught me tremendous respect for people who can do this job and do it excellently. It is a complex, difficult and delicate thing, requiring huge tenacity and great sensitivity, most of which I’d be very surprised if I even came close to getting half right. We need good critical discourse. We need to engage with what other people think, especially people who are dedicated to the practice of such a thing. I think of all the free online publications out there using student writers in exchange for free tickets and wonder how much value they are contributing to the cultural landscape they are feeding from… but that’s a whole new post…

This process has highlighted to me how much I love the shadows and the cracks and the uncertain places; the ambiguous, the fluid, the not knowing and the continually emerging places. As a creator, this is where I love to hang out. And yet for a crack or shadow to exist we need the solid objects that cast it / create it. To play in the space between structures, we first require structure. Learn the technique – throw it away.

But I digress.

Here’s to our excellent cultural commentators and to healthy open ended critical discourse!!


Red Herring Productions, Funny Peculiar Brighton Fringe Festival 2014

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