Saturday, 1 December 2007

An Ululation

Have a listen to this bizarre interview with Katie Mitchell, from yesterday's Woman's Hour. Among other things, Jane thingy asks her if the actors secretly think she's rubbish, and admits she's not earnest because she appears to like cake.

Most notably, there's a lot of the usual stuff asking Mitchell about whether she likes dividing the critics. This is a peculiar notion people have when they don't make work themselves. Of course people don't want to divide the critics. They want undivided adulation. But if they're making work honestly, as Mitchell undoubtedly is, they simply have to make the best work they can according to their own instincts, and hope critics and audiences share those instincts.

Jane Whatsit cites this review by Charles Spencer, considering it typical of the sniffier responses to Mitchell's work in its accusations of "arrogance", its decryal of her "smashing up the classics", its despair that her "primary aim isn't to serve the dead author". My feeling is that Euripides' reputation will survive Mitchell's degredations, if such they are. And if he thinks she's cut too much, he should see my production. I think we've got about five lines that derive from Euripides.

But seriously folks. Is the director's first responsibility really to the unknown whims of dead people? Not to the audience? Not to their artform? To a guy who died 2500 years ago? That's 500 years before Jesus, for crying out loud. God's bread, it makes me mad. And then the very next day, Spencer writes this even more egregious assault on the idea or possibility of art in the theatre - and that's just when talking about Trevor Nunn. When he demands plays be allowed to speak for themselves, what can he mean? If that's what he wants, why does anyone direct them at all? Why not just sit around and have a reading? Or better still, why not *$%* off home and let those of us who actually like theatre carry on making and watching it?

7 comments:

wilko said...

Asking KM if the actors secretly think she is rubbish is a wierd question, but given that she is terrified of both actors and audiences (and I don't mean that as a criticism of her or her work - but I do think it is true from my experience of her teaching) its a wierdly apposite qustion. What was her answer? (I can't listen to stuff on my computer at work...)

alexf said...

her answer was that she doesn't know if they secretly think she's rubbish because if they do secretly think she's rubbish then they do so secretly. And that it doesn't really matter because they're all doing a good job.

wilko said...

Fair enough.

I bet she does think that they secretly think she is rubbish.

alexf said...

the other thing that i found interesting about the interview was the way, when talking about the process and the decisions made on the way to WoT she constantly says noty "i" but "we". All of which, to me, adds further weight to my feeling that Lyn Gardner (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2007/11/the_classics_would_be_ancient.html) was wrong to accept Micheal Billington's (http://arts.guardian.co.uk/theatre/drama/reviews/story/0,,2218739,00.html) charcterisation of Mitchell as an auteur. In fact, it strikes me that she must be one of the more collaborative directors around - what with her emphasis on process and the narrow pool of actors with whom she likes to work. If any UK-based director is teetering on the edge of auterity i'd have that that Simon McBurney fits the bill much better. If i were less lazy than i am i'd have written a proper blog about all this.

danbye said...

I'm quite happy for her to be an auteur, and although she may work fairly collaboratively, she definitely sets the terms for that collaboration and defines the parameters within which collaborative transactions can take place. There's no doubt in my mind that she's an auteur of sorts and I certainly don't think she's any less of one than McBurney.

I think it's a crying shame there aren't more directors who are (to quote Alex on Dan Sherer) no shit actual artists. As Alex goes on to say, we can count the number of those that we know on the fingers of very few fingers. Despite Charles Spencer's fearful defence of the old guard, a few more of them won't upset the apple cart too much.

alexf said...

is setting the terms of the collaborations not merely being a director? i mean, i think by your definition you could happily classify, say, Brook as an auteur. Or Mnouchkine. Both certainly produce distinctive work, but they don't fit into any idea of the auteur, with all the connotations of a single overiding creative authority it entails, that i recognise. Doesn't the auteur simply replace the writer's godhead with the director's (which is why it's been a useful concept in film, where the director has long been considered more important than the writer(s), if indeed they are not the same person.)

And i think this is one of the main reasons Billington mischaracterises Mitchell's work in this way - he simply doesn't have the conceptual tools to treat theatre outside of the single controlling authority model. He prefers it when that single controlling authority is the writer, but in the case of WoT this is obviously not the case, so the intentionality of the writer must be replaced by that of the director.

The other main reason is that he, along with what you might call the rest of the establishment, appears to be under the impression that we have a tradition which includes a way of doing Greek drama, and that consequently there is a proper way of doing it (which would, practically amount to nothing more than a set of conventions) from which Mitchell is deviating. This, of course, is nonsense. We don't even have a tradition which tells us how you might want to do chorus work, nor how we integrate what i'll lazily call movement with text, nor how we deal with the different levels of heightened delivery of text that Greek tragedy demands. So of course you have to create a new stage language to deal with Greek tragedy because the old one to which the DWMs refer just doesn't exist, and even if it did, it wouldn't in anyway be truer to the classics, or to authorial intention or to the Greeks or any silly abstract unknowable than what Mitchell does unless they did it in a big ampitheatre in a great big Festival in which the whole city stops works and watches plays for a solid week and everyone wore full masks with built in amplifiers. And spoke ancient Greek.

This doesn't mean that i think auteurs are necessarily a bad thing - just that i don't think Mitchell is one.

danbye said...

I wrote a longish reply to this, then my computer crashed. I may manage it again tomorrow, but really, I don't know that I disagree with you all that much, and certainly I'd want to refine some of what I've said in the light of what you've said. So I might not bother.