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The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

Keep it in the best pos­si­ble taste, urges Peter Craw­ley

THERE ARE two the­o­ries about broc­coli. The first is that you have no say in the mat­ter: your palate was formed in the womb and your pref­er­ence for cer­tain flavours was in­flu­enced by what­ever your mother ate. If she liked spicy foods, chances are you do too. If she ate broc­coli, you’re prob­a­bly okay with the stuff.

The sec­ond the­ory, with­out over­sim­pli­fy­ing the sci­en­tific data, is: EAT YOUR DAMN BROC­COLI! That is, shovel enough of that weirdly-tex­tured, sin­is­terly-shaped veg­etable down your gul­let and even­tu­ally you will learn to ap­pre­ci­ate it. This, broadly speak­ing, is what we mean by an ac­quired taste.

You could say the same about dif­fer­ent styles of the­atre. From the con­ser­va­tive to the ad­ven­tur­ous, there’s no ac­count­ing for taste.

That might ex­plain the mix­ture of whoop­ing en­dorse­ment and bil­ious re­jec­tion that met ac­tor Aaron Mon­aghan’s com­ments in The Ir­ish Times a few weeks ago, when he said he was tired of the­atre made for “a very par­tic­u­lar, young, hip au­di­ence” in which ev­ery­one “is play­ing a ver­sion of them­selves”.

Mon­aghan wasn’t ac­tu­ally giv­ing out about what was var­i­ously de­scribed as “con­tem­po­rary the­atre”, “ex­per­i­men­tal the­atre” and, at one bold moment, “ex­per­i­men­tal avant garde aes­thet­ics”, nor did he name names. But the re­ac­tion on­line­from the­atre prac­ti­tion­ers, ex­pressed in con­cen­tric cir­cles of Face­book posts, sug­gested that ev­ery­one knew what and whom he was talk­ing about.

Some of the re­sponses were con­sid­ered. Oth­ers joy­ous. Some were an­gry. Oth­ers es­o­teric. Some were just hurt.

And then the dis­cus­sion turned to sand­wiches.

When some­body bor­rowed Roy Keane’s in­fa­mous dis­mis­sive de­scrip­tion, in 2000, of com­pla­cent Man United fans as “the prawn sand­wich bri­gade” to de­scribe the au­di­ence for ex­per­i­men­tal the­atre, the dis­cus­sion sud­denly had a term that no­body needed to ex­plain. “I like prawn sand­wiches,” wrote one per­son. “I also like some ham and cheese.”

No­body likes to think they have a nar­row ap­petite, undis­crim­i­nat­ing taste-buds, or, worse still, bad taste. Mon­aghan’s real point was that peo­ple should be able to ex­press their opin­ions with­out fear of cen­sure.

The truth, though, is that tastes ac­tu­ally do change. One fas­ci­nat­ing study of 19th-cen­tury melo­drama shows the val­ues au­di­ences ap­pre­ci­ated in the 1820s (God puts ev­ery­thing right) had flipped rad­i­cally by the 1850s (bour­geois ma­te­ri­al­ists put ev­ery­thing right), and any­one who fol­lows mu­sic, art his­tory, lit­er­a­ture, com­edy, film or fash­ion knows taste is shaped by du­bi­ous ex­per­i­ments and grad­ual up­take. Some things flour­ish and some things per­ish.

So long as no­body is shov­ing it down your throat, it’s a sim­ple in­vi­ta­tion: try this. You might like it.

pcraw­ley@irish­times.com

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