Drama Matters: The Curtain Falls

Drama Matters: The Curtain Falls
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Curtain falls
As Dan Hutton dedicates himself fully to theatre-making, this instalment of Drama Matters will be his last.

You may have noticed an absence of Drama Matters over the past few weeks. As you’ll no doubt be aware, when half of the British theatre industry pops up to Edinburgh for a month in August normal service stops abruptly and without warning, causing chaos like a narcoleptic on a motorway. I’m also having to draw my time at Litro to a similarly abrupt end, as I cross the proverbial battle lines from critic to maker.

My two weeks in the Scottish capital this year was the first time I’ve been “out”, as it were, as someone who both creates and writes about theatre. Every morning, I’d get up for our performance of Nothing at Summerhall, in which I perform and had a hand in creating, before dashing around the city to see the work of other theatre-makers for Fest. It was a surreal experience, and one in which you feel supremely vulnerable; if you’re attaching your qualitative judgement to someone else’s creation, you feel your own art will be judged even more acutely in return.

I’d always thought that it was possible to be both a commentator on and a creator of theatre, going so far as to positively encourage and support it. I’ve realised it’s not quite as simple as that, however; though as a critic you have a responsibility to the artists in question to write reviews which are both fair and critical (in the true meaning of the word), as an artist your responsibilities are a little more complex. Should you be damning of a company who have created work whose ethos you agree in but who ultimately fail? In a time of austerity, shouldn’t artists be doing all they can to support each other? Well, “No” is the short answer to those, as I wouldn’t support incompetent directors or Thatcherite theatre-makers, but saying those things on a public forum isn’t exactly going to help.

And that ‘public’ thing is, perhaps, the crux. Curtailing my critical writing doesn’t necessarily mean I have to stop being critical, and equally it doesn’t mean that those people won’t hear my thoughts on why their work didn’t feel like a success, as I can say all these things in private to the individuals in question. As soon as you broadcast something in print or online, however, the crossover becomes a little more problematic for both parties.

This isn’t to say, of course, that makers can’t write about theatre full stop. In fact, some of the most engaging, angry and provocative commentary comes from people whose job it is to make theatre: Alan Lane, Andy Field, Chris Goode all write blogs of extraordinary insight, whilst scores of one-off articles written for newspapers by playwrights, directors and actors create an even richer critical discourse.

One other thing you realise when you start properly making stuff, however – and the main reason I’ve chosen to step down from Drama Matters – is that it takes time to make theatre. Lots of it. So much so, that by the time you’ve crashed on the sofa after a long day in the rehearsal room, the last thing you can think of doing is penning a piece about, say, Europeanism in contemporary British theatre. Both making and writing about theatre take time, and it’s nigh-on impossible to do both to a high standard simultaneously.

Looking back on what I’ve written, this sounds like a farewell to writing about theatre forever. It isn’t. I still fundamentally believe that it’s possible for those who make theatre to also write honestly and critically about one another’s work, but it might take time to get to a stage when we’re all happy with that. For the time being, however, it’s goodbye to Litro, who have been brilliantly open to my suggestions for articles and who have helped to shape Drama Matters over the past seven months. And thanks to you all for reading. Now go and change the world.

Dan Hutton

About Dan Hutton

Dan is a freelance critic and theatre-maker. He won the Howard Hobson Award for Theatre Criticism at NSDF in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and in 2013 was the runner-up for the Edinburgh Fringe Allen Wright Award for Arts Journalism. Dan is also a director and co-runs Barrel Organ Theatre.

Dan is a freelance critic and theatre-maker. He won the Howard Hobson Award for Theatre Criticism at NSDF in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and in 2013 was the runner-up for the Edinburgh Fringe Allen Wright Award for Arts Journalism. Dan is also a director and co-runs Barrel Organ Theatre.

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