Life as a critic often feels like being stuck in Groundhog Day; the déjà vu is impossible to avoid as we face yet another production of the same play (or even the same production of the same show, which we revisit because of a transfer to a new theatre or a cast change).
And sometimes the déjà vu extends to this column: just the other week I was writing here about this very phenomenon, when two productions of Ghosts opened back-to-back in London, and I pointed out that I’d seen Macbeth four times over this year already, with a fifth to come in New York.
As it happens, I missed one of those Ghosts, and I may yet skip the Macbeth in New York (though its very tempting to see it, as Ethan Hawke is playing the Thane of Glamis, and our very own Anne-Marie Duff is playing Lady M). But I’ve also decided to recalibrate things in my life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t need to see everything – even if it were possible, which it isn’t, given that there are only seven days in the week.
Yet the biggest battle I struggle with is the constant requests I get from theatres and companies to see their work. Sometimes it isn’t enough that I’ve seen (and loved) something once: last year I saw and reviewed the rare revival of Martin Sherman’s landmark gay play Passing By at the Finborough, and now that it the production is being revived at the Tristan Bates Theatre next month, I’m being urged to see it again.
These requests are becoming suffocating – no sometimes has to mean no.
When I politely declined, their press officer replied, “The team were hoping for some support after your last review,” so they wondered if I’d give it at least a blog mention. I’m not sure this is the sort they intended, but I’d only like to suggest that sometimes the pressure can be counter-intuitive; I realise that the makers of plays regard what they’re doing as the most important thing in the world, but it isn’t, alas, the only thing in mine. And the constant assault of requests may drive me away rather than towards the show in question.
And they are far from the only offenders. When I again politely declined another opening next week via the theatre’s PR, their administrator wrote instead to ask, “Have we lost favour with you?” Of course it is flattering that people crave my presence. And it is, after all, the job of a PR to try get it. But it’s interesting how a simple no is not enough: suddenly it becomes personal.
So I’m going to reiterate here that of course it isn’t. Regular readers will know I love the theatre; indeed I live and breath it. But these requests are becoming suffocating. I know, too, that it is an occupational hazard, and a price that I pay (in the absence of paying for tickets!) for doing what I do. But no sometimes has to mean no.