Sunday 6 May 2007

Critically speaking...

Mencken, apparently, said that "Criticism is prejudice made plausible".

I always think erudite blog entries should begin with a relevant quotation, so there you go - and useful things, quotations are. What is it about them which makes argument futile?

Before I wander off into unknown territory, I'll make the point of today's entry obvious. In my bid to become a Well Rounded Member of the University, I write sporadically for the student newspaper (enterprisingly labelled The Oxford Student). I wrote a couple of book reviews - you can see why this might be my area of choice - but then they shunted me over to drama. In fact, the previous drama editor was unceremoniously sacked, for giving his own plays large and positive reviews, and the rest of the staff went on strike. I was the calm after the stor
m, and asked to be drama editor for the dubious merit of knowing very little about drama. On the page, fine. On the stage, it was a learning curve.

Anyway, that was all a while ago - I did a couple of terms, and now am just part of the Writing Team. And today I was sent off to review a student production of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party. The press previews show 45mins-1 hour of the production, in various stages of costume and prop preparation, and with the occasional prompt. Bribery varies, from nothing, to wine and sweets. I've done a LOT, from Educating Rita to Berkoff's dreadful Decadence, to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to The Threepenny Opera, with obligatory stops at Shakespeare, Coward and Marber. It's always great fun, though I hate writing anything too cruel. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to be funny when being critical - my 'favourite' in this line was when, in Coward's Design For Living, one actor "paraded his over-enunciated consonants through a stage-school portrayal of anxiety". Or "One feels it is only a matter of time before the audience is informed that there is a Hero Inside Every One of Us, or at least witness cameos from the surviving cast of Watership Down."

Enough of me. I wanted to say how much I LOVED Abigail's Party. I have seen it before, but this production didn't disappoint - Mike Leigh's script is a masterclass in incidental inanity made captivating. The character satires are faultless, though remain pleasingly gentle, and it's simply the funniest thing I've seen in ages. If you don't know the plot - Beverley and Lawrence hold a drinks party for new neighbours Angela (Ange) and monosyllabic Tony (Tone). Slightly awkward, classier neighbour Susan (Sue) comes a little later, to be out of the house when the eponymous Abigail has her party. Not a lot else happens - until the twist, that is - but while they bicker, discuss make-up application, debate the merits and demerits of olives, the unknown happened: we poker-faced reviewers started loudly guffawing. So much for keeping them guessing until newspaper publication date.

One of the downsides to reviewing, though, is that I've seen almost all of the play - I don't fancy paying to watch the rest next week. So I'll order the DVD instead...

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