Let the Right one in

You’ve probably read this cheekily provocative Jonathan Maitland article about why theatre is too left-wing

It’s important to remember that he (and of course, the Telegraph) would largely create something like this to troll the theatre community. It’s essentially supposed to make you cross. But I clapped my little hands and lapped it up, not (just) because I’m a perverse, contrary mutha, but because it actually makes a perfectly valid criticism – British theatre IS too comfortable in its general ideology and can far too easily be dismissed as a left-wing genre for left-wing people.

In any event, it’s worth unpacking and examining the whole article to get to this point:

If you didn’t get past the lead image without dying of comedy, then I totally understand. Only the Daily Telegraph would think that hundreds of expensively-dressed, largely white people of middle age or above in an old plush room is a perfect illustration of how something is too left-wing. Bless the Daily Telegraph’s entire, dumb arse.


Maitland’s examples of left-wing theatre are certainly interesting:

  • It seems reasonable to describe Hope as an adorable left-wing play about adorable left-wing stuff. The way it identified itself was one of the main reasons I never watched it.
  • Privacy is about surveillance, sure, but it doesn’t exactly pin this on governments – it spends time, for example, detailing how your smartphone secretly collects data about you, and last time I checked, smartphones were made by a private company, not a government-owned conglomerate. Even following the Edward Snowden strand of it, the liberty of the individual in the face of big government is, if anything, a philosophy more deeply cherished by the right- than the left-wing.
  • Isn’t Posh really about a specific type of class-based entitlement that has been embraced by – on the whole – parties on the political right, and how this affects their political philosophy? I’d imagine a working-class Tory would be every bit as unsettled by Posh than the average Guardian reader, if not more so.
  • Accusing the theatre of David Hare of being overtly left-wing isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s a bit of a cheap shot. Also, isn’t the failure of banking to operate a genuinely free market something that a tortured right-wing writer could just as powerfully put across?

Okay, at the end of the day, Jonathan Maitland is a journalist, and doesn’t maybe have as much insight or ability to research into current UK theatre trends as I do sitting in bed on a Saturday morning using nothing more than my mind (*SATIRE KLAXON*). But he’s overlooked not only far better examples for his own argument (e.g. Anders Lustgarten’s If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep, which was both left-wing as all holy fuck, and one of the most bollocks pieces of drama I have ever seen in my life), and also very solid counter-evidence, such as the depressing West End transfer of the insidiously right-wing The Nether (one of the most bollocks pieces of drama I saw last year), and the fact that Richard Bean not only exists but is one of the most successful dramatists of our time.

Maitland’s chosen to hold back the left-wing typhoon by writing a play about the impact and legacy of Margaret Thatcher, demonstrating his commitment to consumer choice in the marketplace, whilst meta-theatrically satirising the idea that this leads to innovation. Or something. Anyway, he gets to stick the trailer for his show in at this point, which is the main thing.

Then, in a shock move, a lot of the rest of the article is genuinely very insightful and perceptive and I completely agree with it. Yes, the whole philosophy of subsidised theatre DOES encourage a particular type of left-wing base mindset over others. Yes, when unchecked that DOES lead to a ‘coziness’ of thought that progressively fails to examine itself and the art it produces. Yes, that DOES mean that people think political plays will be boring and predictable, because they often fucking are. I’m always in favour not so much of allowing more overtly right-wing work onstage, but of allowing both the right and the left to be held up to equal scrutiny. I’m a pretty massive lefty, but I also feel uncomfortable seeing this go unchallenged – the law grad in me instinctively goes ‘ah ha, but let us propose this situation which challenges these preconceptions’.

Theatre’s amazing at challenging right-wing preconceptions, which is A Good Thing because the real-world political status quo is pro-austerity, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, and Maitland finishes by hilariously missing that whole point. But a good artist should also be a good scientist – setting out to disprove a hypothesis is always more challenging, engaging and inherently dramatic.

A plagiary on both your houses

It’s been a bad week for people who don’t believe in the concept of copyright.

Here in the UK the wounds of IndyRef have been ripped open all over again by what I suppose we should abbreviate to Lardogate, whilst in the US everyone’s favourite toe-tapping rape apologist’s charter has failed even to be sufficiently original.

There’s a colossal discussion to be had around both the magnitude of ‘theft’ in both cases and indeed about whether artistic ideas can even be owned. For now though, I’m just going to offer a thought as to why the writers of each are, to some extent or another, in the wrong:

The law of theft is entertainingly complex, far beyond that of simply taking someone else’s stuff without asking. One facet of this is that theft can just happen without anyone necessarily realising, like when the milk unexpectedly turns, or several playwrights move house at the same time.

If you agree to give me your lawn mower for a week (let’s say it’s a strange magical land where two normal people own gardens), but then I either through malice or uselessness fail to return it to you, then technically my continued possession of the lawn mower – and denial of your ability to use it – amounts to me having stolen it.


If you create some art, you are giving the ideas and aesthetic therein to society. Inevitably (you hope), some element of it will inspire me to create some art of my own. It’s obviously neither practical or desirable to monetise this relationship, but it would seem like a matter of honour to acknowledge the inspiration. If, either through malice or uselessness, I either refuse to acknowledge it, or outright deny that the inspiration has even happened, then I’m asserting my sole possession of the idea and arguably denying you the ability to use it. This may not be illegal in the same sense, but I feel it’s a level of disrespect that ought not to be shown from one artist to another, and it’s what the writers in both cases above are guilty of.

Obviously in any individual case there can be nuances – Wayne Coyne showed a great attitude in a comparable situation, contesting the philosophical principle, but also taking ownership of his mistake.

Basically, just be transparent, eh? The human race has been around too long for anyone to have any truly original ideas, so there’s really nothing to be gained from trying to look like a divinely gifted genius. Transparency could probably do a lot to create a genuinely strong culture of creative sharing, and if you don’t like the sound of that, then you’re probably a bit of a jerk.