The End of Art?

Hugh Richmond

It seems debate about production values for the classics is spreading. I hope I may be forgiven for citing a few sentences from a current commentary:

"Is our obsession with updating the classics diluting their essence?"    by Michael Coveney - May 25, 2017 The Stage

thestage.co.uk/features/2017/obsession-updating-classics-diluting-essence

There is a strange fallacy at the root of much theatre production and adaptation of the classics that is currently all the rage, and it pertains to recent complaints by David Hare that we are forgetting how to “do” them and by Michael Billington that the National Theatre in particular (and I’d add the Royal Shakespeare Company) are failing in their obligation to the repertoire.  Even those who see merit in these complaints are not -particularly concerned about them. There’s a mood abroad that the classics don’t matter unless they are rewritten on our terms. This relates to another recent complaint, by Judi Dench, that young actors have no curiosity about the past or traditions of acting they wish either to emulate or obliterate. . . .

The relevance of these plays has been diminished by changing the rules of interpretation …. There’s an arrogance abroad, … despite Hare deploring a European-style penchant for “infecting” the classics – that, so what, who cares? Richard Eyre thinks negligence of the true meaning of the classics, and the desire to best reclaim them for our times by honouring that meaning, is a cyclical thing: that we will one day return to the worlds of Aeschylus, Ibsen and Lorca by performing the plays they actually wrote rather than peddling modish, possessive and skewed, politically correct rewrites of them.

Bodies like the Arts Council stuck into the language of “provision", gender-balancing, access and social engineering without understanding that art speaks a language of its own, merit is self-explanatory and audiences will flock to theatres (or not) of their own accord, not in some system of patronising “we think this is good for you” coercion. . . .

Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond