Watching replays of live streams on YouTube isn’t the only way to revisit the magic of theatre. While our stages are quiet David Zampatti is reconnecting with his favourites in print.
No-one – no-one in their right mind anyway – becomes a theatre critic for the money. But neither is the hope of compliments from the artists we review likely to lure anyone with an understanding of risk versus reward to our beleaguered vocation.
So when they come, like the appearance of Halley’s Comet, they’re worth going outside and gazing into the firmament in wonder for.
In my decade or so in the reviewing business I’ve eked out a few; Paul Grabovac, that fine bear of a performer, once wore a T-shirt he had made with a quote of mine – that he was “born to play a T-Rex” – across its chest, and Brendan Hanson was so taken with praise of his rump in my review of Clinton – The Musical that he took to quoting it in promotional material.
The Bad Seeds’ drummer Jim Sclavunos did me the honour of letting the world know he’d got a “really great terrible review” of his Faustian Pact at the 2013 Perth Festival.
But those are memorable exceptions.
So imagine my amazed delight when I got an email from the wonderful South African writer, producer and director Tara Notcutt, asking if I “might grant permission for me to please use a shortened version of a part of your review (of the 2012 production of her …miskien)” on the back cover of the soon-to-be-published text of the play.
Oh boy! Immortality on a back cover – I thought you had to be Stephen Fry or Tim Winton to deserve that sort of status symbol.
What I really thought, though, was how much I was looking forward to reading the script of Notcutt’s fantastic show, and other wonders I’ve seen; An Iliad, The Gabriels, Hipbone Sticking Out, or WA work like See You Next Tuesday, F**k Decaf, Bus Boy, Scent Tales, It’s Dark Outside.
So I’ve made that my COVID-19 reading list, and it’s been a great experience. On my bedside table right now I’ve got the Flanagan Collective/Gobbledegook Theatre’s terrific shows from the two most recent Fringe Worlds, Orpheus and Eurydice, Lucy Skilbeck’s startling and brilliant Joan from a couple of years back and Howard Brenton’s razor-sharp versions of Strinberg’s Miss Julie and The Creditors, which I saw last year at Jermyn Street Theatre in London.
Not only does reading plays bring back vivid memories of performances you’ve seen and loved, but it can also reveal more textual information and insight than you’ve been able to take in during the hurly-burly of a live performance. A well-prepared text allows you to sink into writers’ minds, appreciate their techniques and explore their references. Things that happened too fast on stage can be examined in depth, the obscure becomes clear.
Even stage directions, far from being mundane instructions, can reveal the psychology behind stagecraft and the partnership of writer and director to achieve both their aims.
And, hey, curling up with a good play text is not like going to bed with War and Peace; even Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play, should take you on only a couple of sittings’ journey.
I think revisiting a play you’ve seen in its printed form will become a regular part of my theatre-going experience, even when this accursed contagion is past and we can once again gather to watch our marvellous performers in the not-at-all-too-solid flesh.
I recommend it to you.