Thursday 22 July 2010

Moving house

I'm now here.

Blogging will continue there, at approximately the current frequency of one post per year.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

A Thesis on Synthesis

In two digressions

(and an excess of parenthesis)

By day I'm rehearsing Road by Jim Cartwright. The cast are graduating BA Acting students at the University of Northampton, and it's going on in the Theatre Royal at the end of the month. Here are all of the reasons it should be doomed to disaster:

- We get one night only: there are two casts of about twenty; each gets a single performance.
- Both casts have their own director, but the design is shared.
- The production budget across both shows is just under £500.
- With this we need to make a set that won't look cheap or exposed in a theatre that's expensive and big.
- We get a total of seven hours in the theatre, including the performance.
- This means there's no possibility of a dress rehearsal before (did I mention this) the only performance.
- Not much of a cue-to-cue, if any.
- Is it even possible to focus lights?
- Fucking hell.

Those are all of the reasons it should be doomed to disaster. Buried below are some of the reasons it will go one better than Oedipus, defy its fate, and enjoy a happy, prosperous existence with a nice family and a wife who isn't a blood relation.

Buried, that is, in a blog post that's mostly about a schism I've exaggerated because it's rhetorically useful to me.


WARNING: the following contains sickening generalisations.

Cicely Berry and Philippe Gaulier have become twin poles for me. Instinct instructs that they're radically distinct: Berry all about the voice, Gaulier the body. Berry about speaking beautiful language beautifully, Gaulier falling flat on your nose - with flair! Yes?

Well, not really. I spent a fortnight with Cic Berry in November, and was staggered by the extent to which her approach fit Gaulier's, like those siamese twins, struggling apart but ineluctably together. The voice is rooted in the body; is best released by means physical, not analytical. And she delights in anarchy, sometimes to near-mental and downright dangerous extent. One of the most memorable moments of a memorable fortnight was of watching a scene from Lear played as though Goneril and Regan's main action was to strip their father of his worldly weeds (several scenes before he wilfully does the same). This poor old man was completely infantilised, his exposed fury impotent in the face of medically efficient care. And by God you see actors fight. It's one thing writing "resisting" in the margin next to a line, quite another thing translating that action into action. Cis seems to shortcircuit the thinking bit of rehearsals and get straight into the doing bit, responding to the text physically with little need to interpose the brain - except in order to understand what just happened.

This was the advanced stuff. More basic physical exercises allow the exposure and revelation of a character's thought process without any of that bloody analysis. (Cis's mantra for the fortnight quickly became "just fucking do it, darling"; this woman who's been at the RSC since ten years before I was born.) Some of the exercises I'd come across before without knowing they were Cis's. Many of them were new to me. But coming across them all here, at source, I was swimming in mineral springs, unpissed-in by acolytes.

(in which is developed the main theme)

I've written before that the completion of my shows Man Across the Way and Can of Worms in August 2007 represented for me the culmination of twin projects. (That's projects in the sense of "developing bodies of work": grandly like Picasso's or Brecht's, rather than blandly like the sort you did for Mrs Richards in Art.) Let's be glib and parody these projects as Slick Contemporary New Writing (SCNWP) and Clown-Based Physical Comedy Project (CBPCP). I'm happy to run these acronyms as political parties in the next election, in an attempt to beat the May 2010 low score of 17 votes.

It turns out, of course, that I hadn't nearly finished either project. Monday for Red Ladder and The Buzz for Box Clever were both slick as you like. With "explosive Frantic-style movement sequences" ((C) the press offices of both companies). Play Up, Play Up!, a comedy with songs with Chumbawumba in West Leeds, and Full of Noises, a sequel to The Tempest for the West Yorkshire Playhouse weren't both clown-based, but they were both primarily motivated by comedy, usually physical.

The main developments: Movement work in text-based theatre (Monday and The Buzz), a definite step forward although no different from what plenty of people are doing. Starting with a text to make physical comedy (Play Up, Play Up!). Producing a text while devising physical comedy (Full of Noises, which I wrote). The massive importance of live music (the latter two). Both projects keep moving, but on opposite shores. Can they ever meet?

I'm an instinctive synthesiser. My MA dissertation argued that Brecht and Artaud ain't so incommensurable as you reckon; my PhD was about the massive influence of cheekie chappie Charlie Chaplin on supposed grim teutonic Marxist Bertolt Brecht. Last year I wrote an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast which definitely started trying to build a bridge between the shores. But there are some things you just can't do in a family Christmas show. Fab though, to work on that show as movement director, with a super director firmly from the text side of the tracks, in the shape of my wife, Sarah Punshon. Also ace to have loads of live music and keep exploring that avenue. Road's daily riddled with more music, all live. I don't want to do another show that isn't.


Is there a word for the bit of land that connects two landmasses? I've just asked Twitter and Facebook; I'd thought of "land bridge" but that's shit.

Twitter and Facebook have come up trumps. I'm going to go with "isthmus", no matter how monstrous that is to say four times quickly. Hat tip: @DanRebellato; close seconds, thirds, etc with the same answer: @swaddicor, Anna Burnside and Fergus McGlynn. Hon mensh: @AlexanderKelly for "promontory").

This isn't so much the interactive bit as a report on the interactive bit. Apologies.


One of my first sights of the possibility of this isthmus (was it worth it?) came when I noticed that Katie Mitchell and John Wright, notwithstanding the gulf between them (see what I did there?), are often describing something very similar. Bear with me. Big for Wright, or at least my version of Wright, is the "reversal", the moment when "yes" becomes "no" for one performer, or more usually, simultaneously for several. The moment of reversal usually (let's take "usually" as read) comes at the "hotspot" of the scene, where the "yes" really can't be pursued any further. It's often marked by a "fixed point", a few moments of stillness in which "yes" is suspended but "no" hasn't started yet. Those aren't scare quotes, they're quotes. Katie Mitchell, meanwhile, describes the "event", the moment when the intentions of all the characters on stage change. It's always and by definition a moment of increased physical tension, constricting the muscles and often arresting movement. You don't have to be a genius to spot similarities, which is lucky for me.

It would be glib, also idiotic, to say this means Mitchell and Wright are similar artists. Course they're not. What it does mean is they've made very similar observations about human behaviour. They apply these in radically different ways. Mitchell is analytical, Wright instinctive. They apply them to radically different work. Mitchell's is controlled, Wright's is boisterous. But the observations are similar. There is agreement. The languages differ across the gulf, but the objects described in them are related.

It would be once more glib to say this represents a nice little illustration of two key landmasses in British theatre today, not to mention the two of my own practice. It would be even glibber to say that the schism between these two landmasses can be dated to early 1599, when Will Shakespeare parted company with Will Kempe. It would be glib, but I've said it before, so I might as well say it again: that was the point when the literary and the spontaneous parted company. Which isn't to say that never again the twain did meet, but simply to suggest that at that point they became twain rather than wain.

So is there an isthmus? An intermediate language? It's too rare (though not unheard of) that work made in the analytical, text-based tradition contains that zest, that anarchy, that is the mark of genuine life. It doesn't express joy very well. And it's too rare (though not unheard of) that work made in the boisterous physical tradition plumbs beyond pathos to those genuine depths of tragedy. (This work is also too often simply thick-headed and lacking a worldview.) MASSIVE DISCLAIMER: there's a whole bunch of exceptions. To quote another easily-misunderstood statement of intent: "this represents not oppositions but differences of emphasis". All these shortcomings in both languages despite the bleeding obvious: to plumb the depths, you've got to scale the heights. Can't we have both? My heart is in the instinctive approach, my head in the analytical. Can't I have both?

Yes, I can. How?

Well, I'm not going to tell you. What a tease: I'm still figuring it out. I expect to be doing so for the rest of my career. Anticipate staging posts over the coming years.


That brings us back to Road. (Fangyuverimuch. A'llbe'ereallweek.)

How do you prepare a cast for the ridiculous constrictions described above? Obvious innit. Create a process that's about improvising within the strictures of text. About finding the new impulse while honouring the underlying one. Responding to the unexpected situation to generate the one secured in rehearsal. Easy.

Ipso facto, it can't possibly fail. Getcherticketsnow. 31 May, Theatre Royal, Northampton.

This is a really flimsy lattice of theses. Your thoughts, objections and counterexamples, please. Then I can do a "but yes" post, followed by a "yes, but".

Wednesday 20 May 2009

A Form of Return, but by no means A Return to Form

I'm back.

Did you miss me?

I never intended to be away this long. But after a couple of months I realised I'd have to post something spectacular to re-announce myself. Otherwise I'd have to renounce myself. Now it's been a year and a half, I no longer feel any pressure to be good; merely to be here is all I crave. I'll ease myself back in with a little light posting and see where it leads us. Hopes are high chez Pessimism of my being back in full querulous-garrulous mode by autumn. Though no doubt it'll be over by Christmas, just like last time.

What have I been up to?

I thought you'd never ask. Polite of you. Don't worry, I won't answer in full. Here's a precis:

I've written some theatre and directed some theatre. I ill-advisedly appeared on the stage for ten performances of a solo show. I've completed a PhD (scoff not). I've run a lot of workshops and, due to ongoing knee trouble, no marathons. I've watched Middlesbrough Football Club sink into the mire, a spectacle more demanding of blind optimism than I can will. I've spent more time travelling than stationary, more time home alone than with my wife. And despite all of that, I remain fairly cheery, ta. You?

This being by way of a re-introductory post, I won't rabbit on about all the projects I currently have simmering. Some of same have been on the boil since last time we met. I expect in the fullness of time they'll come up here, even if not in the world made flesh.

I'll leave you with two thoughts and a trailer, to elevate this beyond mere chat.

Thought One. In theatre, the profession and the academy aren't great pals. In medicine, there's barely a distinction, but in theatre the former is bloody suspicious of the latter. My declaration of interest: despite the aforementioned PhD, which is just about worth the paper it's written on, but certainly not the scholarship it's written thanks to, I'm much more a creature of the profession than the academy. But I think the width and depth of this schism a shame. And I think it might be slowly changing.

That was me whetting your appetite for something I might, but by no means will, talk about now I'm back.

Thought Two. I suspect I'm writing this because I've got a first draft deadline in nine days, I'm away for the rest of the week, and I'm stuck. So am I worried once I've met the deadline, or not, I'll no longer crave your attention as a pretense I'm doing something constructive? A little. But perhaps by the sheer virtue of posting this, I'll feel shamed into saying at least a little more.

And the trailer: in a couple of weeks I'm doing the National Theatre Studio directors' course. That should give me something to talk about. And I hereby promise that this blog will be second only to the pub as a forum for processing my thoughts. We've been asked to learn a poem. Suggestions?

Saturday 15 December 2007


The bevy of blogs responding to Arts Council England, Yorkshire's decision to cut funding for the National Student Drama Festival has occasioned a fair amount of personal soul-searching.

Like everyone else, I had some of my most important formative experiences at NSDF. Hell, I trump everyone else's stories: I met my wife there. Future generations will owe their lives to the Festival.

Unlike everyone else, I live and work in Yorkshire. I rely, to put it rather cruelly, on some organisations not getting funding in order that I might eat. For me to sign the petition would send to ACE Yorkshire - and my name would be noticed among the signatories - a very peculiar message: "don't fund me, fund them."

Nevertheless, I say, in full knowledge of the peculiar personal position this puts me in: Don't fund me, fund them.

Everything everyone else has said about how NSDF contributes more to the future of theatre for £52k than any of the region's producing theatres do for several times that figure is so obviously right that I don't need to rehash their arguments here: follow the links in the first sentence. I'll give you one more NSDF alumnus to be going on with: Alan Lane, winner, with his excellent company Slung Low, of this year's Samuel Beckett Award. By his own account everyone hated his two shows at NSDF. I'm guessing that's not quite true, but the work he makes now is fantastic and I've been proud to be involved in some of it (now that I think about it, that probably constitutes a declaration of interest. But honestly, I'm never deliberately nice about work I don't like, even when I like the people who made it).

But there is one key sticking point that no-one addresses and is, I think, worth looking at.

ACE Yorkshire's remit is, in large part, to support the arts infrastructure in its region. Producing theatres undoubtedly do that. Touring theatre companies do that not only by developing and producing work in the region, but also by becoming known as, e.g. "Leeds-based Unlimited Theatre", or "Sheffield-based Third Angel" or "Sheffield-based Forced Entertainment". I could go on, but you get the point: these companies bring kudos back to the region's arts scene.

Yet NSDF is a peculiar anomaly: it does very little for the region. Almost none of its alumni goes on to work here: they all go to London. Lane, my wife and myself are very rare exceptions. The work is not seen primarily by people from the region. It makes no dent on the regional media: when I was working as a journalist I repeatedly pitched articles on NSDF to the Northern Echo and the Yorkshire Post, but they weren't interested; it wasn't a story for them. Funding NSDF doesn't actually hit any of ACE Yorkshire's direct funding priorities.

Still, it should be funded. It's a unique organisation and like any unique organisation, it falls between gaps left by more conventional models. A stunning number of people from every individual festival go on to work professionally in the industry. Maybe they would have done so anyway - but almost every single one of them will cite NSDF as a huge influence, a turning point. There are fifty-two years worth of stories like Lane's. It's important. Its funding should be a national priority.

Friday 14 December 2007

Hot Salt

I don't cry much in the theatre, and I'm fairly tough to crack in the cinema, too. But this really got me.

Doin' it for the Kids #2

It's that time again, when the year, ebbing away into its life support, is prematurely euthanased by endless end-of-the-year reviews. Let it be known, therefore that there will be no end of year summary from Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will, until the year is good and dead.

The end of the year summary, incidentally, provides an excellent illustration of the founding temperament of this blog, viz, last year was a bit disappointing but here are all the reasons to be excited about next year. You'll get that from me on January 1, as I'm trying to emphasise the optimist. Call it a new year's resolution, but not til a fortnight Tuesday.

With which in mind, today I'm going to talk about children, whom Molly Flatt thinks should be seen and not heard at the theatre. Except that's probably not what she thinks, as that header is no doubt the work of a scurrilous sub-editor.

Anyway. Obviously it's a real pain if you're watching Shaw or Much Ado and there's a school group restively stirring their crisps, texting each other along the row and chatting about how fit Claudio is. But I put it to you: if your audience is that bored, you simply ought to be doing better work. It doesn't matter how old they are: don't ask them to be more polite, physician, heal thyself! and be less earnestly dull. I absolutely refuse to accept that there are groups who simply cannot behave in the theatre. The fifth comment on that Guardian blog derives entirely from class prejudice and is the sort of thing that makes me really quite cross.

An equivalent to Chris Goode's cat test might be the child test. It works like this: you do a show with some kids, of any age, in your audience. If they get a bit restive and you ignore them, you are not live. If you can weave their restiveness into your action, even just by acknowledging they're there, then you are. The first kind of show sees people getting more and more restive. The second infallibly quells their restiveness. Better still: be live enough, and good enough, to keep them from getting restive in the first place. It really is that simple.

It works on exactly the same principle I use when running workshops containing rowdy elements. If someone's talking while I'm talking, I look at them for the next few words, with no accusation or criticism, just to make it clear that I am talking to them, not just talking. And they listen. Teachers and workshop leaders who talk without making any eye contact at all invariably lose everyone's interest in seconds. Whenever I go for interviews for this sort of work I'm always asked the same question about how I deal with seriously disruptive children. My honest answer is that I've never had any in my groups. Maybe this is why.

Shows which are specifically designed for children make a virtue of audience interaction, as does pantomime. As we get older and we "learn to shut up", we learn to tolerate a certain amount of boredom because "it's good for us", so the work we see is allowed to shut itself off. But I do an awful lot of work with teenagers and, I promise you, they're just as capable of concentrating as you or I. They are also a lot happier to admit they're bored. Any show which is not capable of keeping teenagers interested is not live enough, not good enough, not fit for purpose.

There's a perception, because of its association with panto and childrens' theatre, that talking to the audience is somehow lowbrow and infantile. I give you as counterexamples: the theatre of Brecht and Shakespeare. No writer has surpassed those two in their ability to mix seriousness and fun. When they're produced, of course, people tend to emphasise the seriousness and we get the worst kind of deadly theatre. Emphasise the fun, though, and the seriousness will look after itself.

While I'm about it, there is no virtue in "forgetting yourself" in the theatre. That's what Hollywood rom-coms are for.

This is going to sound like a personal diatribe. It's not. I think Flatt's writing is excellent and I recommend her blog, particularly this post on the genius that is Seth Lakeman (my own long-promised post on folk clubs is on its way, I promise).


Regular readers will notice that, in a mild fit of redesign, I've moved myself further to the left and my thoughts further to the right. Read into that what you will.

Friday 7 December 2007

One's Company

Natasha Tripney has a pop at the monologue over at the Guardian blog, and it's true that such shows can make for rather anaemic theatrical experiences. But not always.

The key to Tripney's argument is that in monologue "the writing is inevitably foregrounded" and that in the end this can make the whole process "a bit anti-theatre". This is possibly true. So let's consider the distinction between "monologue" and "solo show".

A monologue implies an actor talking some words and not much else going on. My heart stops, bored, at the thought of this, although I suppose it's probably salvageable as a form. Maybe we'll even get to some examples.

A solo show is a lone performer in front of an audience, doing their thing. This includes stand-up, violin recitals and the Vin Garbutt gig I went to on Tuesday (of which, more in the next couple of days). It also includes, for example, the solo work of Chris Goode which, though scripted, does not foreground the writing so much as the performance. This is what should happen in a solo show.

As soon as there's a second performer on-stage, the actors can engage in the collective delusion that there's no audience present. This is foolish, but comprehensible, and it's possible to rehearse their interactions in such a way as to make them credible.

A solo performer has no-one to talk to but the audience and no possibility of hiding from them. For interactions with that audience to be credible, they have to be real. If you, up there on stage, pretend I'm reacting in a certain way, or just pretend you're making eye contact with me when you're not, then I quickly start to lose interest in you. You're lying to me. The more contact you make and the more that contact is genuine, the more live your show is.

It's true that there is little more exposing than the solo show, but not because weaknesses in the text are more likely to be exposed. A weak text is weak however you say it. No, a solo show is exposing for the performer. It's exposing because you can't hide from the audience. And if you try to, you might get a bit of a safety net from a strong text, but ultimately you're going to hit the floor, hard. In our theatre, where so much futile sweat is put into trying to pretend the audience isn't there, this is peculiarly difficult to get hold of. So many actors pretend to be talking to the audience when they're not. We can tell. Don't pretend I'm not here. I haven't paid ten pounds to be sat in the dark and ignored for an hour. That's just rude.

A couple of examples from recent memory. I saw Limbo, which Natasha mentions, here in York. It's an extraordinary, fully-realised example of the sort of theatre I'm mostly not particularly interested in: the level of naturalistic detail is so overwhelming I even almost suspended my disbelief for possibly the first time in my life. Director Dan Sherer teaches at the Strasberg Centre in New York, and you can tell. Everything is subjugated to verisimilitude: rhythm, tempo, nailing the laughs. Nothing is more important in this production than truth. Nothing is important in this production but truth.

I really enjoyed it. It was fascinating to watch a show in which almost every single decision taken was different to the equivalent decision I'd have taken, and to see a really convincing case made for each of those decisions. If you're interested in finding truth in theatre, you have to go this far or not bother, otherwise you're just saying it. And the one decision I'd have shared was that the performer spoke to the audience throughout. She didn't fake it one iota. A bit neglectful of the crap seats, maybe, but it was real communication between performer and audience. The company would perhaps prefer me to say real communication between character and audience, but I'm not going to. Oh, and the declaration of interest: Dan's a mate. You should meet him. He's top.

Limbo possibly comes under the category "monologue", but I'd say that because it's theatrically so interesting it's more of a solo show. I think I've just realised that I'm simply going to call bad solo shows monologues as a term of abuse from now on. Oh well.

Another reason solo performances are tough is because the introduction of a second and a third voice make it much easier to vary the music of the piece. Finding a high rhythm is incredibly difficult when you've only got one performer, and finding a new note is, too. You need to be a virtuoso, otherwise listening to your voice all evening is going to become tiresome for us. There was a solo show in Edinburgh a few years ago called Basic Training, in which the performer played about seven different characters and flipped between them with bewildering pace and dexterity. It was quite a flimsy piece of gusty All-Americanism, but as an example of solo performance it was sensational. Your man on stage Khalil Ashanti was a virtuoso.

Chris Goode's solo work slips this leash a bit, though. I hope he'd forgive me for describing him as not a virtuoso actor. Nonetheless, his solo shows really work, because he has a very simple and honest way of being with an audience, in this room, today. His relationship with his material is not that of an actor relating to a character by attempting to convince us that he is that character, rather that of a performer presenting a story, or some websites, that he reckons we might find as amazing as he does. He finds them amazing, and he hopes we will too. And the honesty of his amazement, coupled with the fact that he's got a lovely, idiosyncratic way with words and a magical ability to weave together images, communicates to us, directly, and this roomful of people shares something, now.

Tripney's right that solo shows are rarely seen beyond the Fringe. So it's difficult to resist the idea that economics is the driver behind their being put on. Thus as the economy tightens, perhaps we can expect to see an awful lot more of them over the next few years. All the more important then that we pay some proper attention to what makes them work.


After all of the above, it now seems to me particularly foolish that I'm about to embark on making my own solo show, an adaptation of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I make no claim to being a virtuoso performer, either. Hey ho. I'm young, I'll learn. It'll be finished around March/April. Anyone want to book it?

Thursday 6 December 2007

Pretending to be Other People

Andrew Field is, as usual, right, when he tells the world to stop getting so het up about perceived pretensions. (Andrew and I have got to stop cross-referencing each other so much, or people will start to talk.) For my money, though, he misses one major reason pretension is a good thing in the theatre.

The basis of almost all theatre is people pretending to be other people. Pretension is written into its very nature.

It gets very complicated, though, this pretending to be other people, when we start to think about it professionally. I'm not sure it was like that for the Elizabethans. I'm pretty sure they just got up and did their lines in a manner they hoped would prevent the audience, as far as possible, from throwing pies, starting fights, or shouting too much during the quiet bits. Stanislavski put paid to all that, if it wasn't on its way out already. From that point it became necessary, in order to pretend to be another person, to try to have a good idea of what it would be like to actually be that person.

And not just a good idea. Research. Truth. The Actual Objective Facts About People, even when those people and those "facts" are made up. Certainly in the British drama schools, this is the method of training which obtains today, a method heavily predicated on the assumption that there is a truth that can be got at, a truth that is usually considered to be inscribed in the text. There is a character in there, if only I can get it out. Like those weird guys with metal detectors, you may be looking for the treasure of the Sierra Madre, but you're mostly finding old Coke cans. Pretension is problematic when you tell us that what you've found is of value and most of us believe you.

This isn't acting, it's voodoo. When did pretending to be other people turn into trying to become other people? The search for truth seriously limits our options; isn't the credible much more interesting and broad than the true? Theatre is a space where we can make stuff up, where we can indulge in a collective let's pretend, where it's all a big fun game. Yet so much of the time we see shows, if you follow, pretending that they aren't pretending. Pretending it's actually real. As if somehow this will dignify the practice of let's pretend. You're chasing shadows, doing this. You'll never succeed in convincing me that something that's not real is real, because I know it's not. I'm not an idiot. I've got ten GCSEs, and that's more than I need to see through this one. Stop wasting your energy, and instead try to convince me that something incredible is credible. Ask me "what if...?"

I'm not saying that the act of pretending should be foregrounded the whole time, like with Forced Entertainment's gorilla suits and the Wooster Group's blackface. (Incidentally, if you're interested in the Woosters, you simply must check out George Hunka's excellent essay Ghosts in the Text and - another Field plug - Andrew Field's stuff on the Woosters' Hamlet in the blog linked to above.) I've greatly enjoyed work by both companies, but a theatrical diet based exclusively on such post-structuralist struggles with subjectivity would be thin gruel indeed. If all theatre were simply about theatre, I'd be too bored with it to bother thinking of an end to thi

If there's a problem endemic in contemporary theatre, if there's a problem with this culture of literary management that people seem to get worked up about, it's a different kind of earnestness. Much of comptemporary work is obsessed with telling stories. No bad thing in itself. But it doesn't tell them, it exhibits them - an artist exhibiting a painting doesn't actually need to be in the same room as those appreciating it, but an actor does. Why pretend otherwise? We should give back some primacy to the simple pleasure of pretending. Pretending to be other people is fun and watching people pretending to be other people is fun, too.

Brecht felt that by stopping bothering to pretend that what's going on in the theatre is real, the reality of what the play referred to would be felt all the more. It's a bit pat to suggest that by pulling away the scales of theatrical illusion, our eyes also learn to correct for the distortions of that other great deceiver, capitalism. But it's certainly true that if all our interpretive energy is directed towards trying to catch people out in a lie or an inconsistency, then our attention might more productively be directed elsewhere.

I leave you with Sir Ian McKellen on the subject: