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.