Dumbing down debases classics
I was deeply disturbed by Purni Morell’s statement that “we have to find ways of making the classics less classical” (Training, October 4, page 14). What a declaration from the artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre in London.
Why is a woman who has had the sacred trust of our future actors, directors and theatregoers placed in her hands, investing in the culture of dumbing down? Why are the British so afraid of, and apologetic for, our classics? You don’t find the French shying away from Moliere, or the Germans cringing away from Goethe or Schiller.
It is one thing to tell Shakespeare’s exciting tales in a simplified form to young children, or to do plays about the minor characters in a Shakespeare play, such as Alethea Hayter’s brilliant Horatio’s Version. It is quite another thing to try to present Shakespeare as if it were something else.
I’m at a loss as to why A Winter’s Tale is less classical than The Winter’s Tale, but we shouldn’t be trying to trick children into believing they aren’t really watching something classical. We should be celebrating our classics. They tell stirring stories that are relevant today. That’s why they have lasted.
Certainly, children need to be helped with Shakespeare’s language. But when his plays are performed well, children get the gist and understand what’s going on. We underestimate their intelligence by using gimmicks.
I wonder if Morell is truly in touch with today’s world when she says older people don’t want to discuss sex and drugs with teenagers. Mostly, that’s quite untrue. Similarly, youngsters are very quick to pick up on sugared pills and adults trying to sell things to them. As a drama coach myself, I find they’d rather adults were honest and presented things as they are.
Spoofs are all very well, but they have no relevance unless people know the original. So why not stop the dumbing down? Why not perform Shakespeare as is written, with pride? He was the greatest writer who ever lived. We are a fortunate nation to have him.
If we give Shakespeare to children as if he were a dose of castor oil – ghastly but good for us – they will come to regard him as such. If we present him as the treat he is, they will do the same.
Building on ANLO success
Helen Uren expresses her disappointment at the government’s decision to reduce arts funding, which resulted in the Arts Council’s A Night Less Ordinary free theatre ticket scheme being pulled (Stage Talk, September 6, page 8).
Your readers might be interested in Theatre by the Lake’s involvement with the ticket scheme, and how we have developed the idea since it ended.
We took part in the ANLO scheme for the whole two years, and exceeded our targets. Our scheme had two levels – we gave away ‘Friday Freebies’ to the general public, but we also used the opportunity to work closely with children’s services in our area so we could build relationships with youth groups that had traditionally been classed as ‘hard to reach’.
We were able to offer tickets to groups that had never interacted with the theatre before, including those from the west coast of Cumbria, an area that suffers greatly from pockets of socio-economic disadvantage.
When the funding ended, we decided we wanted to continue the scheme. We now make tickets available to under 26 year-olds for only £5 each, offering a limited number of free group leaders to accompany them. We have also partnered with other local venues to offer similar advantages on selected shows.
We offer other bespoke opportunities, such as backstage tours and talks, in order to further break down barriers to access. We have also launched a young reviewers scheme, in which we ask young people to review our shows for use in this sector’s promotional material.
We have found the scheme to be increasingly popular, and we look set to reach our targets once again this year.
Under 26 ticket scheme co-ordinator
Theatre by the Lake
Email address supplied
Less of the same, please
After reading Matthew Hemley’s exclusive report, ‘Machin to create Spooks-style police drama for BBC’ (October 11, page 3), I’d like to ask Barbara Machin – why?
We don’t need another Spooks, Hunted or Waking the Dead style drama series. We need fresh, exciting new ideas from our emerging and experienced writers – not the same old ‘been there, got the video/DVD and the T-shirt’ scenario, thanks.
We want the reintroduction of acting and true storytelling, not special effects, grotesque and graphic detail, and foul language. To hear the English language spoken correctly, with a return to morals, manners, principles, family values and courtesy, would also be welcome.
Creating well written scripts, with good storylines and characters, isn’t rocket science. So why do all the networks, producers and writers make it so?
Country Girl’s welcome return
I was thrilled to see Edna O’Brien appearing on television and radio recently.
Years ago, the great writer’s personality used to light up TV chat shows on a regular basis. Then, the most appealing voice ever to grace a microphone seemed to opt for privacy.
She still tells the story of her life with great candour and intelligence. Welcome back, Edna O’Brien.
St Faith’s Street
By George, you’ve lost it
Always nice to see one’s letter in print (Stage Talk, October 11, page 6), but was rather surprised and non-plussed to see my forename given as ‘George’.
Still, we all make mistakes, and, that apart, my weekly copy of The Stage is my bible.