Aspiration or Desperation?

4 Comments

This post is inspired by a few thoughts I’ve recently had and also an interview I read a few weeks ago with Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail’s Theatre Critic. I’m not a reader of The Daily Mail (phew I hear a few of you say!), unless I’m around my dad’s as he gets it. So I’ve seldom read any of his reviews, or his writing. I’ve also no idea where I read the interview with Quentin Letts which is a shame, I think it was The Stage (or possibly the Evening Standard), but I can’t seem to source it now.

Anyway he made a very valid point that a large proportion of modern plays tend to focus on the worst possible people and scenarios, that they wallow in the slurry of 21st Century Britain. That modern playwrights use too much disgusting language and that the Theatre which could  give people aspirations doesn’t seem to be aspiring to that.

I finished reading Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, the other day and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. This has been the “hit” play recently and all it is about is a vile doser and bunch of chavs. Now I’m sure Mark Rylance’s performance as Johnny Byron was superb and I can imagine for many going to see the performance was a key element of them going. However as a piece of drama, I found the play lacking. I also found it a very hopeless piece (perhaps Jez Butterworths aim?).

The play is going to Broadway and it’ll be interesting to see how the Americans respond, however I feel a bit ashamed that this is showcasing “Britain” to them, a bunch of foul mouthed, loose, selfish,drug taking, freeloaders.

I appreciate I sound like “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” (ironic as I’m from TW), and I’m not averse to plays being used to show us the more unsightly aspects of society or being used to shock, or having “fruity language” but are playwrights being lazy by using the worst of society and placing it on stage as spectacle for the middle classes? While thinking about this I thought how would I write a play that showed something a bit more positive and my answer was that it’s pretty difficult. (I may take up my own challenge one day).

Well I’m not offering any answers, and I’m still thinking this through. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood Jerusalem.

Thoughts and comments more than welcome!

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4 thoughts on “Aspiration or Desperation?

  1. I went to see it and shared your reactions. Shakespeare’s equivalent, Nym and Bardolph, had a point; these little.

  2. Hi Dominick, just read this and felt I had to comment. I saw this with my family and was blown away by it. I can fully understand how on the page it might appear as you say, about a bunch of losers, but the production did not feel like that at all. It actully was quite inspiring. Yes, Rylance was superb, unbelievably so, but all the other characters came through strongly, and the end result was something quite uplifting. It really touched a nerve with me and has left me thinking about it for quite some time. Did I leave the theatre feeling depressed? Not one bit! What Butterworth does very skilfully I thought, is really highlight many of the issues facing middle England today, both political and social. Try reading it again – sometimes it takes 2 or 3 reads to get a play, and read it as if you were watching it. I know the modern way is to give little or no setting in the stage directions so try these at the beginning – the caravan is run down yes, but the clearing in the wood is a beautiful spot, the sort of place you could feel at one with nature, the warm sunlight dapples through the trees and the birds sing gently in the background. It’s English summer at it’s finest, the sort of day you never want to end.

    Now cast you mind back to that summer’s day when you were about 12 or 13 (the emotional age of most of the characters) when you were out playing with your mates. You’d all cycled off somewhere on your bikes, the long summer holiday stretching in front of you, packed lunch and drink in rucksack, illicit fags in jacket pocket – enough for one each – and there you found it, paradise, and you were the only ones who’d ever found it – it was your secret place for the rest of the day! ……..now go read!

  3. Mike,

    thanks for the reply, really glad you did, and explained your views.

    It may well grow on me on a second or third reading (too busy with other reading at present to give it a go just at the moment).

    However,
    “Now cast you mind back to that summer’s day when you were about 12 or 13 (the emotional age of most of the characters) when you were out playing with your mates. You’d all cycled off somewhere on your bikes, the long summer holiday stretching in front of you, packed lunch and drink in rucksack, illicit fags in jacket pocket – enough for one each – and there you found it, paradise, and you were the only ones who’d ever found it”

    alas I never did that 😦

    Jez Butterworth was interviewed on a The Stage Podcast regarding this play while it was on and he talked about how it was based on his memories of growing up. He talked about how he felt Johnny Byron was a character throughout numerous English villages and towns. Perhaps he is, my childhood seemed to avoid him.

    Thanks again for your comments, if it’s revived soon, I’d like to see it, as I think it’ll work better being seen (as most plays are not surprisingly!)

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