8/10 Reviews written by men - the irony!!!
Press night is almost always challenging but generally ends in celebration.
As a movement director I find the morning after torturous. You are officially ‘off the job’ but nothing can quite describe the emptiness that comes with walking away from a cast and team whom you’ve spent the majority of the past month with. In the case of Twelfth Night is has been a total privilege to work alongside such generous and talented performers, as well as the ever patient and brilliant people who make everything backstage at The Lyceum possible.
Just as you find space to process the experience and begin to consider how you feel about the work you have placed on stage, you are faced with the choice to accept or ignore the reviews that begin to appear. Arguably, as a movement director I rarely have to fear being mentioned but that doesn’t mean I feel any less anxious knowing the brilliant people I have tried my best to support and safeguard for the past month are about to be critiqued. Nor does it quell all of the hopes I have for the work which, although not my own, I have invested myself in fully and tried to help shape in a way I hope develops theatre for the better.
Let’s be honest, I really believe that everyone working in theatre wants all theatre to be successful. The better it is the more people it should reach, right? And, the reviews serve an important purpose in encouraging people to connect with work that may reflect or colour their lives.
However, with Twelfth Night I can’t bring myself to read them all. Presenting a play that for hundreds of years has been sold as blurring gender and offering a more fluid take on sexuality, makes it even more difficult to accept that the bulk of mainstream criticism is still written by white (often middle aged) men.
I don’t have an issue with the reviewers, they are doing their job (some arguably need to stop writing story boards of the script and get down to reviewing the work but that is another conversation).
However, what infuriates me is that if this is the only lens through which work is critiqued in the mainstream media (the reviews with which the production will be remembered, sold or even restaged) then it is little wonder that theatre is still so elite, patriarchal and privileged.
Of course, I want cis gendered, straight men to be part of the conversation about gender and sexuality. I want everyone to be part of the conversation because we need everyone to create a shift towards genuine equality.
That said, I don’t think it is unfair or alienating to question why we need to hear so many cis-gendered men’s thoughts on gender representation in theatre. The marketing for the production states ‘genders blur, boundaries are crossed and the world is turned upside down’ which could be seen as a calling card to anyone who lives out with heteronormative and binary parameters as the opportunity to see themselves represented on a stage. Therefore, where are the reviews from women, non-binary people, trans men, trans women, trans non binary people and in terms of the way sexuality is represented (something I cannot learn from a Google search of the reviewers) where are the queer voices in criticism? This is without even touching on the fact all of the reviewers so far (from my Googling) are white.
Many of the reviews are written with binary assumed pronouns, notably that of Zoe Robertson (Young perspective) takes the time to highlight this as she states that her employment of pronouns is ‘based on assumption, however; actor pronouns were not provided.’ Zoe is also the only person to bring the representation of gender and sexuality on stage into question, seeing beyond gender-blind casting as a thing to be celebrated (a phrase I struggle with as it can suggest that gender should be disregarded, an attitude which acts to reinforce the patriarchal system we are working in) and highlighting that gender fluidity surpasses having a woman play a man but that we need to expand how we cast theatre to reflect our evolving understanding of gender.
I am not saying men cannot serve this role or present this perspective but surely if you have never had to question your gender identity in the world, your awareness of the difficulties faced by those who experience systemic discrimination on a daily basis will be limited.
If we are to genuinely encourage more diversity in theatre, all access points have to be diverse. We need to discuss the work from multiple perspectives and relish the opportunity to hear from the people we say we want to represent.
As a maker, I know that this opens the work I make up to criticism that may be hard to swallow. I’m super privileged (white, cis gendered and pass as straight). I am okay with this, as someone who wants to be progressive I have to be prepared to be called out if the systemic barriers to diversity are to be challenged. If I have to cry some privileged tears in the process, so be it.
We are all just trying to contribute to good theatre and make a living but we should all be loudly questioning the space we take up and what this perpetuates.
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Reviews as collated at 7.30pm on Thursday 20th September:
"Magnificent, music-infused Twelfth Night takes the play’s gender confusion to new levels"
The Stage (Thom Dibdin)
“With 50/50 gender-split casting, this comedy of disguise and identity enjoys a playful makeover”
The Guardian (Mark Fisher)
“tripped-out gender-fluid production
The Herald (Neil Cooper)
“an intriguingly gender-fluid production”
All Edinburgh Theatre (Hugh Simpson)
“harnesses the challenges to gender and class captured by the 1960’s”
Edinburgh Guide (Kenneth Scott)
“you're not always quite sure if you're watching a boy or a girl”
Edinburgh Festival (David Petherick)
“as our understandings of gender are expanding beyond simple binaries nowadays, it’s unimpressive”
Young Perspective (Zoe Robertson)
“updates where appropriate and continues to blur the boundaries of gender roles”
Just For Culture (Stuart Kenny)
”the action takes place in a ready-made atmosphere of blurred gender lines”
The Times (Allan Radcliffe)
“the story of gender bending and mischief making betrays the duality of human nature”
The List (Lorna Irvine)