Theatre: Don't shoot the messenger

Theatre is drab, dreary and disgracefully dated. At least that's what David Sexton, literary editor of the Evening Standard and smugly self-confessed theatre-hater - and plenty of others besides - would have you believe.

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Commercial Litigation

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride