Saturday, 10 September 2016

NATIONAL THEATRE PLUS ONE GATE

There is no question that I should let this lie, and at the very least I've said most of what I need to say on the subject in an article I wrote for The Stage a while back, and the fact I haven't pitched this to anyone is a sign of how absolutely niche it is. But. I had mildly complicated feelings when some of the cool theatre twitter people who smoke at the back of the Twitter bus were bemoaning the National Theatre's capitulation in the matter of +1s after kind of banning them from their bigger theatres. Actually they weren't even that complicated, they essentially boiled down to WHY ARE THEY SAYING I'M A BAD PERSON I'M NOT A BAD PERSON AM I?

I mean firstly, I do think it's important to remember how shitly the NT went about introducing this policy – if they'd just written to everyone saying 'it's 2016 and there are changes being made in the interests of diversifying press night attendance' it would have been really hard to have any comeback, but instead they made a microscopic, unflagged up tweak to the small print of The Threepenny Opera press invite and confused a lot of people (is it really over-entitlement to think it's a bit rude to take away something nice you've offered for decades and not think to mention it? is it smart PR to totally cede the initiative to a bunch of perplexed oddballs by not explaining yourself?). I do think that rather than being the undoubtedly good policy it potentially sounds like on paper, it was a pretty woolly and arbitrary thing introduced by a new head of press who wanted to be Seen To Be Doing Stuff, and the confusing way it was introduced was indicative of an idea that didn't really come with a plan attached (the best answer they gave as to who they were planning to invite instead was 'people like BuzzFeed', which is fascinating, because while this is undoubtedly smart in future terms, it involves not accommodating more requests or engaging with diverse/minority voices, but persuading people who don't cover theatre that they should cover theatre).

Secondly I do take exception to any notion that the Theatre Critics' Circle aggressively forced some sort of climbdown. I mean, let me tell you one thing about the Theatre Critics' Circle: as far as I've ever been able to tell, it doesn't actually do anything apart from host a pretty good awards ceremony at the start of the year. An email was sent around informing people +1s had been scrapped after the NT failed to tell us, and we were asked what we thought about it (my reply in full: 'It's just a bit rude not telling us, you know, I don't automatically think I "deserve" a +1 but it's a nice perk and having it taken away from you without even thinking to mention it when it's been on offer since time immemorial is just a bit thoughtless from an organisation that most of us enjoy a good relationship with'). Then the NT held off on implementing it until the end of the summer as a sort of 'sorry guyz' thing, but as far as I can tell everybody was expecting it to be implemented in October and it had ceased to be much of a talking point. Clearly TCC head Mark Shenton was negotiating during this time and clearly he was 'successful', but nothing of whatever was going on was ever communicated to us and I can't imagine he possibly threatened them because what the fuck would you threaten the NT with? As far as I know he broke out his standard 'paid theatre critics are a dying breed, gissa break' thing and it was accepted and the NT said they're still going to manage to implement whatever they were going to implement anyway.

Should I feel guilty/unethical about taking a guest? I suppose ultimately this is the thing that got to me in terms of writing this lady-doth-protest-style post. There seemed to be some disagreement as to whether a +1 should ever be issued on the discussion, with some suggestion that paid critics shouldn't get one but unpaid should (which I could pick a million holes in but as I can't see the NT ever attempting this then I can't be arsed) and this absolute doozy

Ie 'use your +1 to make the world better, not to bring your mates'. Is it bad to think that's silly? It's not been offered to you as a sphinx-like moral conundrum or because in a fit of genuine insanity theatres have outsourced their outreach schemes to critics. It's been offered as A Nice Thing and perhaps even because of tradition, but surely not as some sort of Big Deal. There are major London theatres – notably the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida – that never ever ever ever offer +1s to anyone, and clearly it has had no impact. So when I'm offered a seat for a 900-seat theatre (Lyttelton) or 1,200-seat theatre (Olivier) I just think it's fairly reasonable to think they're offering it because they can spare it, not in a desperate attempt to win my love.

Am I stopping a black teenager going each time I take a +1? It's an obviously very weird question: you could probably argue a yes and a no. Are my friends intrinsically undeserving? Maaaaaaybe? I dunno, I overwhelmingly go with one of four people: none of them are rich, three of them probably earn a bit more than the national average, one earns a lot less and is also black – should that matter? And finally there's the question of what I get out of it: I've long since lost the need to have somebody with me when I'm watching art, but essentially I have maintained close relationships with four of my best friends because I can take +1s to the theatre in a way I would have found very difficult otherwise because I have no evening social life outside of the professional because I have a baby.

None of this is 'important', and probably it's all just elaborate spin for my own awfulness, but at the moment I feel so weary about traducement of character being deployed as response to disagreement. Bleh.