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Mark Shenton: My theatrical new year’s resolutions for 2018

Tobacco Factory, Bristol

It’s that time of year when we try to begin again with a blank slate and set out our intentions for the next year. One of my Broadway friends sends out an annual holiday letter to friends and family, detailing the events of the past year and their resolutions for this year. Among the latter this year are to “see less theatre” and “spend less time at benefits, galas and openings”.

Every year, I also hope to cut back in a similar way, but seldom do. This year, however, may be different: after I experienced a ‘heart event’ last summer, which resulted in having a stent put into a blocked artery [1], I realised that my health may depend on it. So this summer, my husband and I booked not our customary two-week break in Provincetown, Cape Cod, but a full two months from mid-July to mid-September. I’m going to miss some openings, but I’ll live. And I’m not even going to have to think about whether I should go to Edinburgh or not [2].

While on the one hand I am losing a sixth of the UK theatre year by being away (not to mention other trips to review shows in New York in the coming months), I also have some clear intentions and ambitions while I’m here in the UK.

1. Venues to visit

Last year I finally managed to get to the New Diorama, which I’d never been to before, where I saw Thirty Christmases.

Thirty Christmases review at New Diorama, London – ‘funny and heartbreaking’ [3]

I’ve still not managed to get the Yard, though, and there are a host of London theatres I simply do not get to often enough, such as the Orange Tree, the Gate, Lyric Hammersmith, Theatre 503, Shoreditch Town Hall and Battersea Arts Centre. I must do better.

Similarly, outside London, I like to think I do pretty well: in 2017, I’ve been on multiple occasions to Manchester, Sheffield, Scarborough, Birmingham, Chichester, Newbury and a brilliant new discovery (to me, at least) in Kilworth House in Leicestershire [4], as well as Bath, Brighton, Liverpool, Northampton and Canterbury.

But I didn’t get to Bristol or Leeds at all last year, and there are some regional theatres I’ve yet to visit at all, such as Bristol’s Tobacco Factory [5] or Bath’s Ustinov Studio [6], although I’ve seen London transfers for many of their shows. So I’m going to commit to visiting a new venue at least every month.

2. Theatre for pleasure

A lot of my theatregoing is work-related – but one thing that maintains my love and enthusiasm for the theatre is finding shows I love and revisiting them. I suspect Everybody’s Talking About Jamie [7], which I’ve seen four times already, will be this year’s go-to pleasure. Hamilton [8] would join it – if I could secure reasonably priced tickets, that is. This week I’m revisiting Follies [9] (my sixth time, on its last night) and An American in Paris [10] before it closes this weekend. I’m long overdue return visits to Dreamgirls [11] (I’m dying to catch Marisha Wallace as Effie), Motown [12] (to see David Albury’s Smokey Robinson) and Mamma Mia! [13].

3. Arts beyond the theatre

I manage to get to the opera a bit – I do regular talks for ENO at London Coliseum, so that’s already a favourite theatre – but I never get to the Royal Opera House, or the regional companies such as Opera North, Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera.

As for dance, Sadler’s Wells is one of London’s most creative theatres, yet I hardly ever go there. In 2017, I’m going to commit myself to going to an opera or ballet performance at least once a month.

4. Television

Some of the best things are to be found on TV, yet I’m never home to watch them. Last year, I finally caught up with the entire series of The Good Wife and its successor The Good Fight. I’ve not yet seen Doctor Foster or Breaking Bad. So those are high on my catch-up list.

5. Cinema

Unlike theatre, which has a finite life or at least an ever-changing one, cinema never feels quite as imperative to me to catch on release: the films will still be there whenever I am ready to see them. But there’s nothing to beat seeing a film in a cinema at the moment of release, so you’re at least part of the conversation around them. I spent New Year’s Eve finally catching up with the extraordinary Manchester by the Sea; next up, I need to see God’s Own Country and Call Me by Your Name.

6. Critics

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to see it, has it happened? Critics are not the only people who see shows, so they will survive the death of criticism – other people will remember them. But if a critic writes a review and no one reads it, who will remember them or mourn their passing?

As a voracious consumer of print and online journalism, I’ve long made sure I pay for the sites that I want to read that are paywalled, to make sure I support their ongoing journalistic endeavours. So I pay for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Times and the Arts Desk already. But I am also going to make a more determined effort to read more widely around the independent websites and blog sites that cover theatre, and also to listen to more theatrically driven podcasts.