Theatre: Don't shoot the messenger
Saturday 07 March 1998
Like a biographer snippily reviewing a rival's tome, Sexton put on his best bad mood and sloped grumpily off to see Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love. The result? Yet another interminable yawn-inducing rant about how Stoppard (pictured) had misrepresented AE Housman, the play's subject, and subjected Sexton to a typically tortuous evening of theatre.
At this point, I should come clean. I appear to be alone in having a degree of sympathy with his views. Despite Richard Eyre's beautiful, respectful production and glowingly sincere performances from Paul Rhys and John Wood as young and old Housman, the play itself left me cold. Using two time periods is already a Nineties cliche of both the theatre and the novel. Some of the exposition is shockingly clunky: poor Stephen Mapes has precious little to do for an awful lot of stage time, other than to ask questions so that young Housman can expound his views. You cannot help but admire its verbal felicities but the note I wrote in my programme after a full 45 minutes reads "Drama anyone?".
With few (if any) changes, the play will probably be extremely satisfactory on the radio but winningly theatrical it is not.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'd rush to a revival of Stoppard's ludicrously clever and funny one-act gem After Magritte and I'm beside myself with glee at the prospect of revisiting his sublime critical sideswipe cum murder-mystery spoof, The Real Inspector Hound - to be revived next month in a brilliant piece of programming with Peter Shaffer's side-splitting Black Comedy. Plays like Jumpers or Travesties link intellectual conceits and dramatic ideas with quite dazzling aplomb. For me, The Invention of Love lacks their theatrical rigour and zest.
However, unlike Sexton, my dissatisfaction with the play doesn't lead me to confuse the particular and the universal. I haven't written off the whole business of theatre as a result of one unsatisfying night out. The cynics among you will probably invoke the Profumo girl Mandy Rice- Davies and say "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?" Well, yes, it is my job, but I do it because (and I'm sorry to be so unfashionably enthusiastic) I love theatre. Worse, I believe it to be important. Besides, I've sat through dozens of well-received movies I loathed but that doesn't lead me to condemn cinema as worthless. Maddie or Always might lead the unsuspecting to think that all musicals are trash, but what about Sweeney Todd or Guys and Dolls? The physical interaction between the audience and the actors at the latter was electrifying. Normally self-possessed theatregoers found themselves yelling for encores. That charge is less obvious at a straight play but there, too, you get the excitement of a live, shared experience. You're publicly involved in a collective exchange of ideas and there's an undeniable thrill at being in the same space as actors carrying you along a playwright's journey to enlightenment. Try watching a dress rehearsal on your own, it's a completely different experience.
What I can't work out is why Sexton bothered to go when he so openly hates theatre. I loathe science fiction so I no longer read it but I'm not about to insist - at length - that others are wrong or foolish to love it.
Life & Style blogs
McDonald’s launches clothing line using Big Mac prints
Facebook to test 747-sized drones that will beam broadband to the entire world
The distress of some Zayn Malik fans is real, and they need support, say experts
Chair-bound workers 'should move around every hour to reduce physical and mental health risks'
The truth about student sex workers: it's far from Belle Du Jour
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...