Monday, February 20, 2012

Posh and period

Bingo is one of the best plays of the last hundred years. Most of Edward Bond's plays are pretty good - but the Trilogy around Shakespeare (Lear, The Sea and this one) are truly amazing. It's also a very complex piece, and one that needs a clear, rational production to make sense. I saw a brilliant production of Bond's Restoration some years ago with Simon Russell Beale and my chum Vivienne Rochester, which was set on an empty white space, blazingly lit, with only occasional, very specific props, each of which glowed with economic and dramatic significance as a result. The new production, at the Young Vic, which I saw on Saturday, is in a very different style. In fact, it looks like a Sunday-night BBC period drama. As the photo shows - there are period costumes and heavy detail in the set and props. It all weighs the production down, so that it feels lacking in the mental energy Bond requires.

There is a lot of this sort of thing about, of course. Downton Abbey; Birdsong; Upstairs, Downstairs..... all of them are dramas to fuel the heritage industry. Never mind the way the Dickens anniversary has been treated. It feels as if the past has been appropriated by the right - and culture has become the repository of the worthy and dull. We've got posh and period mixed up with profound. It's a very strange thing to happen to somebody so avowedly of the left as Bond - but he's been packaged up as part of the 2012 heritage industry.

I recall, during the Thatcher years, Salman Rushdie commented on the preponderance of Raj nostalgia in books, TV and film (Passage to India; Jewel in the Crown; The Raj Quartet...). It happened, he pointed out, just as a right-wing government was reasserting British imperialism elsewhere. Today's manifestations of heritage culture have a similar background, though closer to home. The TV dramas celebrate the aristocracy just as a cabinet of Etonian millionaires squeezes the country dry - and even theatre, that most democratic form, is starting to serve up productions of socialist plays that make them cosy, nostalgic, and in thrall to the establishment.

By the way - I also think the Young Vic has one of the best programmes of any theatre I know - and I love most of the work there (including the current Changeling). So please nobody take offence - but I do think this debate needs to be opened up.

No comments: