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Katie Mitchell: A Warning From History


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#1 Jan Brock

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 01:26 PM

(I have posted this here to avoid the spam and reach the more informed forum inmates)

In the early-mid 1980s one of the most fashionable directors working in London was Yuri Lubimov (always referred to as "legendary Russian director Yuri Lubimov"). I think it was the first time he had been able to work outside Russia and this political dimension fuelled the praise that was being heaped on him. Several of our best actors signed-up to work with him (Michael Pennington, Harriet Walter). The Sunday papers were full of him, the South Bank Show went into overdrive, and so on - I vividly remember one dazzled commentator reporting that because Yuri's grasp of English was limited he used to stand at the back of the rehearsal room and flash a torch on and off "when he wanted the actors to go faster".

The fruits of his ground-breaking cutting-edge work, held up as being refreshingly free of the narrow provincialism and impoverished imagination of our native directors, were shown at the Lyric Hammersmith and Almeida. They were what could loosely be described as "Expessionistic": Black empty box sets, black costumes, shouting actors, much random striding around and symolic movement such as falling backwards into the walls (helpfully constructed out of large black rubber bands in one production) all played at interminable length and with a near total disregard for believable plot and character development.

It was immediately clear to those of us who had managed to secure a gold-dust-like ticket that the Emperor, sadly, was wearing no clothes at all. Of course reviews were almost universally gushing, but after his brief season in the sun Yuri quietly disappeared from the London dramatic stage and concentrated more on Opera - a more suitable home for his talents where style is prized above substance. And we all went back to liking directors like Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn, who favoured character and plot-driven drama and who aimed to serve the writer of the text rather than vice versa.

Here endeth the lesson.    



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Posted 26 February 2007 - 02:10 PM

Hear, hear.

And what's more, here endeth the lesson but sadly not the damage.

The self-flagellating Marxist rot that has pervaded British theatre since the 70s has caused so much lasting damage. Anything traditionally English is 'parochial' and 'dull' (Lyn Gardner plays this record all the time) and anything foreign is 'new' and 'fresh'. Anything in the mainstream is 'hidebound' any old avant garde toss is 'innovative' and 'groundgreaking'.

The result? We have lost all of our great theatre traditions, from the well made play a la Rattigan to the great British farce.

This has all happened at the hands of a tiny elite, because, of course, much of the nonsense cannot find a commercial audience. Thus it is we get Mitchell-like parasites leeching off the state to promote their own minority tastes.

I don't dislike everything in the subsidised sector, in fact, most of the best stuff I see is there but we've become a country that's allowed itself to become convinced that its theatrical traditions are (or were) 'narrow' and 'tiny minded'. Well, they've all gone now but somehow Joe Public's appetite for avant garde tripe isn't big enough that it can gain the consistent backing of commercial backers.

How have we reached the state where new writing can disappear almost entirely off the radar in commercial theatre in this country because anything traditional and mainstream would be knocked by the bien pensant critics? What did they think was going to appear in our commercial playhouses after the drawing room comedy was banished forever? Hamlet done in mime with Balinese dancers? What we've got is Wicked.

#3 Jan Brock

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 02:58 PM

I don't agree with all you say, but you emphasise a point I have made before about KM - currently she could only work in the non-commercial sector - either in small zero-budget fringe venues or in the massively subsidised sector (NT, RSC, Opera) - I think this makes her a limited director and (particularly) gives her the opportunity to ignore the audience to some extent (by, choosing only a simple example, staging entire scenes which the people in the circle can't see). Exisiting purely in the non-commercial environment breeds self-indulgence.

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 03:49 PM

If only the cultural immolation stopped in our theatres. Sadly, it's everywhere now.

It's no wonder poor Brian Sewell has a heart condition with some of the rubbish he has to review as 'art'.

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 08:06 AM

A small suggestion. Repeat use of the adjective "poor" in this way will make the many-headed believe that your posts are ironic, and I'm sure you wouldn't want that.

#6 Guest_Ricardo Fox_*

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 02:34 PM


Why does Katie Mtchell's work provoke such tub-thumping reactionary bile? It may not be to everyone's taste, but this is a director with a very strong (and, yes, very consistent) theatrical imagination. We should cherish and nurture artists like her, not deny them a voice in favour of mediocre ones. Katie is uncompromising in her vision.

#7 Jan Brock

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 03:40 PM

Oh, I wouldn't say it was bile - just some good natured joshing. I also do not accept "reactionary" as being necessarily a pejorative adjective.

KM is getting plenty of chersihing and nurturing from lavish public funding and indulgence of her work at NT (and previously RSC) so it is quite right that she should be subject to some informed criticism from her audience.

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 03:56 PM

"Reactionary" hark at that! The people are to be denied their voice on how The National Theatre spends their money.

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 04:26 PM

I suppose denying the people their voice is progress under a Stalinist view of the world.

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 09:33 PM

you really are an inverted snob arent you jan




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