Stage struck

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! guar­an­tees critic Peter Craw­ley

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

If you only read one story about clichés in theatre crit­i­cism this year, make it this one! Shortly af­ter see­ing Dis­ney’s mega-mu­si­cal The Lion King the other week, while still mer­rily hum­ming the bud­get, I was sent a sam­ple of rave no­tices that had been fil­leted into use­able poster quotes. The show, I read, was “a rip-roar­ing tour de force”. A riproar­ing tour de force? I al­most dropped my mon­o­cle.

A retelling of Ham­let with jun­gle-themed bal­lads and im­pres­sive an­i­mal pup­pets, The Lion King was “one of the great­est the­atri­cal ex­pe­ri­ences” an­other ap­prover had ever had. Oth­ers were moved to re­port how stun­ning and spec­tac­u­lar and mem­o­rable and truly breath­tak­ing this tri­umph of mu­si­cal theatre at its best had been. Well, I laughed, I cried. As soon as crit­ics be­gin to gush, they turn in­stinc­tively to a stag­nant pool of su­perla­tives and stock phrases. “Bravo!” for in­stance. (Who the hell still says that?) And would they ad­vise us to beg, bor­row or steal to get a ticket?

“The great en­emy of clear lan­guage is in­sin­cer­ity,” said Ge­orge Or­well, warn­ing jour­nal­ists away from ex­hausted phrases. But a more sim­ple ad­ver­sary is time. When you’re up against a dead­line, it’s much eas­ier to reach for the boil­er­plate than come up with a brand new po­etry of praise. The so­phis­ti­ca­tion of mar­ket­ing de­part­ments is also per­sua­sive, which is why so many writ­ers seem to have ac­quired their crit­i­cal vo­cab­u­lary from the sides of buses. It’s the cir­cle of hype.

At the end of the day, most clichés in jour­nal­ism fade into an easy short­hand of “un­put­down­able”s, “only time will tell”s and “at the end of the day”s. The same is true of clichés in art. But shine an un­for­giv­ing light on them, as Roger Ebert did when he called time on all those in­no­cent fruit carts get­ting smashed to pulp in Hol­ly­wood chase scenes. Then you see just how stale and ridicu­lous such tropes are, ripe only for par­ody.

The theatre has a par­tic­u­larly strange re­la­tion­ship with clichés; with­er­ingly aware of ev­ery zom­bie trope from the stage Ir­ish­man to Chekhov’s gun, bliz­zards of ar­ti­fi­cial snow and in­con­clu­sive ex­per­i­ments with on­stage mi­cro­phones, yet some­how per­pet­u­at­ing them.

It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that some of our hoarier say­ings – “it’s Greek to me”, things “van­ish­ing into thin air” – were once fresh, star­tling phrases by that rip-roar­ing word­smith Wil­liam Shake­speare. With enough numb rep­e­ti­tion, any ad­vance in hu­man ex­pres­sion will be­come an em­bar­rass­ing buz­zword. (Fa­cepalm.)

Both art and crit­i­cism avoid stale ideas and spent slo­gans by con­stantly re­vis­ing and re­new­ing their terms. Bernard Shaw once re­viewed a per­for­mance by writ­ing about how he danced his way home and got a po­lice­man to join in. Lester Bangs told read­ers that he wasn’t go­ing to re­view the new Rolling Stones al­bum, “but I am go­ing to swim in it”.

If you’re re­ally in­vig­o­rated by a piece of work, rein­vig­o­rate your vo­cab­u­lary. It’s the least a riproar­ing tour de force deserves.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.