Sunday, 13 November 2011

Category error

Generally I don't go to the theatre to be made a point at. This review of Forced Entertainment's Void Story gives a pretty objective account of what happens in the performance, but the reviewer criticises the show on the basis that the story has no point, and on top of that, the review claims that Void Story also misses the point of both the medium of graphic novel and the medium of live soundtrack. (I wasn't aware there was a 'point' to either form. I humbly thought they were simply platforms for a vast territory of imaginative possibility).

I believe this reviewer made what m'learned friend Tim Atack would call a "Category Error"

Now I'm a fan of Forced Entertainment, but I won't be an apologist for them. They've certainly made work that I've found boring or a bit over-egged. More usually though, I find their work sophisticated, cheeky and very funny. But their work is arch, and in the same way as I REALLY don't like Prog Rock, Forced Entertainment's style is not to everyone's taste. To my mind, most Prog sounds like overblown, posh showing off. But for me to say that Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a FAIL because it does not consist of four to the floor anthems that make me want to just fucking get up and dance like a mentalist, would be unfair. That would be making a Category Error.

I believe that how we respond to art is a crucial part of art itself. As a result, I think it's important for reviewers to give a sense of their personal response to the work. I'm not a fan of those distanced, academic reviews that purport to 'explain' a piece without ever talking about how the experience feels. It's why I always used to prefer NME reviews to those from The Wire. In fact, I think the reliance on student/academic writing about non-traditional performance, rather than more mainstream critique is partly to blame for the reputation of "experimental theatre" as cold and esoteric by default (rather than engaged and immediate).

But back to the (ahem) point. What struck me most about this review was how evidently fixed the reviewer's notion was of how a theatre work (or even a graphic novel, or live soundtrack) should have effect. He seems to take it for granted that we should expect character-led narrative, where the mise-en-scene is in the background rather than pointed out, where the protagonist has agency, and some situation or other is resolved at the end. But the thing is, this isn't that type of work. The reviewer suggests that the show is a failure because he's assessing its artistic choices against the wrong checklist. Category Error. I think Die Hard is a brilliant film. I think Andrei Rublev is a brilliant film. I would probably find it impossible to compare them like for like in any useful way.

It fascinates me that at the end of the review, the reviewer suggests that Void Story is "more art installation than theatrical work". I don't think that's necessarily true, but if he thought that, I wonder why he didn't review the work on the terms of art installation, rather than the well-made play.