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Mark Shenton: My six new year’s resolutions for 2017

Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven in Us/Them Having been a hit at Edinburgh, Us/Them transfers to the National's Dorfman this month. Photo: Felix Kindermann
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My father said the other day he’d made 53 new year’s resolutions for this year. That’s probably 47 too many, so here are six of mine…

1. Less is more

I’ve regularly told myself that I’d enjoy theatre more by seeing less: I go to far too often. Like every critic, I’m besieged by requests daily to see things, but not every one has to be accepted. Of course, I suffer from FOMO – fear of missing out – so I diligently chase down and schedule as many shows as I can possibly see. Yet returning last year to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time since 2012, I went for two nights and saw only six shows. I had the best fringe experience I’d had in years. No one can possibly see more than a fraction of the 3,000-odd shows that descend on Edinburgh every August, but only a handful are really worth seeing. Some of the best have a further life afterwards, too – I’m looking forward to catching up with the much talked-about Us/Them when it transfers to the National’s Dorfman in the middle of this month. My Edinburgh trip was a good lesson, and one I intend to apply to my life more generally.

2. You don’t need to catch everything at the start

As a critic, I’m used to seeing shows when bidden to do so, which usually means a press night or invited press preview. But sometimes, as happened in the mad pre-Christmas rush, it’s just impossible to see everything and some things have had to be postponed. I’m still chasing my tail on several shows that that I missed in December, including Wild Honey (Hampstead), Once in a Lifetime (Young Vic), Peter Pan and Hedda Gabler (both National Theatre), all of which I’m seeing this week. It turns out that January is a great month to play catch-up, as, after the storm of December, we’re having a very light start to the year, theatre-wise. There are very few openings, with only The Kite Runner in the West End next week (on January 10), and a couple of musicals (Promises, Promises at Southwark Playhouse on January 17 and Death Takes a Holiday at Charing Cross on January 21) on my personal reviewing schedule for London. I’m also planning to take in regional tours of La Cage Aux Folles, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Evita.

3. There is life beyond London

Yes, I know this already, and am a keen supporter of regional theatre. Last year I visited Edinburgh (not just during the festivals), Mold, Cardiff, Bristol (twice), Manchester (multiple times), Leicester, Sheffield (three times), Leeds, Newbury, Stratford-upon-Avon (twice), Guildford, Salisbury, Aldeburgh, Chichester, Birmingham, Plymouth, Eastbourne, Dartford and Liverpool. I also made multiple visits to New York, but then that’s my home-from-home. There are still places I don’t get to often enough, or even at all. I’ve still not been to Home in Manchester, for instance. Or Live Theatre in Newcastle. And I skipped Northampton entirely last year.

4. There are still London theatres to visit

There are also some London fringe theatres I’ve yet to visit. The most egregious omission is probably the New Diorama, but I’ve also never been to the Yard or Camden People’s Theatre. And I don’t get to Theatre503 or the Orange Tree nearly enough. As I write, I realise I’m now giving myself reasons to ignore my first resolution. But I can’t be everywhere, either.

5. I’m not going to feel guilty about repeat visits

I’ve just been listing all the places I don’t manage to get to – so why do I allow myself the indulgence of repeat viewings of things I love? This is something I’m not going to apologise for. Of course I could see more if I repeated less – but for me the repeats are pure pleasure. A colleague once asked me what I liked to do on an “off” night – what did I do for pleasure? I replied that I’d see Bend It Like Beckham again. No show in recent times has filled me with as much joy and uplift as it did.

6. I shouldn’t take it personally

Being a critic isn’t about being popular; it isn’t about being right, either. There is no such thing. So I mustn’t take it personally when other critics don’t share my enthusiasms, nor take it to heart when I’m trolled on Twitter (mercifully, this doesn’t happen often).

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