When I told a senior colleague that I was ‘only’ giving ‘The Book of Mormon’ four stars out of five, she gave me a look suggesting that my rampant cynicism had gotten the best of me AGAIN. Everyone she knew who had seen it said it was a 5/5 rave; the Broadway critics had given it 5/5 raves (well, the limited number of them that deign to use a scoring system had); to a fair degree its success lay not simply in the idea of ‘have some yuks with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’ but THIS IS ONE OF THE ALL TIME GREAT MUSICALS.
Now I wouldn't even say it's one of the all-time great Parker and Stone creations. But I did like it, and so did most critics (albeit with three tepid reviews from the Guardian, Times and Telegraph) so it’s weird to see ardent fans of the show – not least celebrity fans - suggesting that ‘critics’ had some sort of agenda or didn’t ‘get it’. Few of the grumbles seemed to really address the actual criticisms of the show. And I haven’ especially seen anybody explaining what they think the ‘it’ to ‘get’ was – that was kind of my problem with the show, that it lacked bite and intent compared to Parker and Stone’s other stuff.
While I wouldn’t really want to compare ‘The Book of Mormon’ (which is good) to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers (who are despicable), it always strikes me that the weirdest and most obsessive fans of things tend to be fans of massive, hugely successful entities rather than so called ‘cult’ concerns. The most abuse I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever written was some NME blog or other in which I suggested in passing that stadium funk dullards RHCP were shit (one of the best responses was from a Polish person who said I made them feel ashamed to be Polish!) And to some extent I wonder if people having – no doubt very fleeting – sour grapes over the reviews not being across the board raves are the same: they want to think that the giant, corporate behemoth they like is the best, is infallible, they’ve put a little something of their identity into that belief and they won’t say ‘no, I see where you’re coming from but for me it’s different’ because that would still shake the belief too much. (It’s probably a bit like religion but I am definitely not going to ‘go’ ‘there’).
But as I say, it’s a funny one with Mormon, as it can’t just be good, it has to be perfect – I'd guess the producers are probably a bit unhappy about the reaction, insofar as this was never meant to be one of those ‘well of COURSE the critics didn’t like it’ shows.
And part of me suspects that moreso than ego, the reason for that is greed: the top ticket price has now been jacked up to an astonishing £126 (something its vocal ‘sleb fans who didn’t pay for tickets are no doubt totally indifferent to), a shocking amount of money that flies completely in the face of the current vogue for cheap tickets for big name West End drama and is way more than any other West End musical. But I think as with Broadway (where top price ‘Mormon’ tickets are nigh on $500, mind-bogglingly), the idea is in selling a product that is ‘perfect’, and I think any suggestions that this show is not infallible, not the best thing on the West End (and it’s not – of the long runners ‘Matilda’, ‘War Horse’, ‘Jersey Boys’ and ‘Billy Eliott’ are definitely all better) possibly call attention to the fact that that is an outrageous sum of money. And I would think if somebody had paid £250 for a pair of tickets, they really don’t want anyone suggesting to them that that wasn’t a wise investment.
I suppose as a sidenote, the fact that so many of ‘South Park’s UK fans are pretty much forced (FORCED!) to stream it illegally means there may be a karmic debt of sorts being repaid in the average ‘Mormon’ ticket. Still, I can’t help but feel there’s a bit of a savage circle at play here, in that a non-regular theatre goer who enjoyed ‘Mormon’ might have felt inclined to see another play or show if they enjoyed it. But, er, they probably won’t now as they’ll have no money left.
Sidenote 2: After writing the above I got into a very small twitter debate with columnist Deborah Orr, who trotted out the exact ‘the critics just didn’t get it’ line. I probably overtweeted a bit in response, but she did reply to what I thought was a fairly reasoned argument with the line ‘Satire aims to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That's why the critics didn't like it. They're too comfortable’. This essentially seems to suggest that a) none of the critics who didn’t like it would get any satire, or any satire that might make them feel uncomfortable and that b) all the people who see it and like it are coming from a position of hardship/discomfort when at the current prices I’m sure it’s not exactly going to be the preserve of the huddled masses. She is a busy woman and it was two tweets and I’m not trying to nitpick at a more successful journalist than me, but this does seem like the perfect example of what I’m saying – the ‘critics didn’t like it’ narrative involves ignoring a lot of critics, the ‘critics didn’t get it’ narrative is wishy washy and involves disregarding some pretty thoughtful writing (admittedly from people outside the show’s target audience) and the idea that everyone who does like it is coming from some salt of the earth social position is barmy. Again, I find it odd and a bit maddening that anything less than rapture is considered sneering cynicism, and the reason I find that the most maddening is that this seems to be towing a line laid down by very greedy producers about the show being ‘perfect’.
Sidenote 3: A bit tragic of me to notice, but although the London twitter account for the show hasn’t mentioned the reviews, the Broadway twitter account for the show tweeted a couple of the positive ones and then deleted the links shortly thereafter – it does look like they’re not even acknowledging the four star reviews on grounds it makes the show look fallible…
Anyway, that was all very boring of me, I’ll try not to write about work on here ever again.