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Daniel Evans: No play should ever be restricted to a particular audience

Petra Letang in Random at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Recently at Chichester Festival Theatre, we produced a double-bill of plays by the poet-playwright Debbie Tucker Green. The first was the astonishing solo piece Random and the other was Generations, an inter-generational play featuring a South African choir.

Tucker Green is a writer who happens to be black, and both plays require black actors, as they are located within distinct worlds. They were directed with great sensitivity by Tinuke Craig, whose efforts were recognised by audiences and critics alike.

Director Tinuke Craig: ‘As an assistant director, you’re the only person in rehearsals not doing the job you want to end up doing’

I was taken aback, however, to read comments in some reviews that suggested that these plays should not be seen by Chichester audiences. One online critic, for example, noted that Tucker Green doesn’t write for the critics. “She writes for the people who will feel it. That’s not the people who live in Chichester and go to Chichester Festival Theatre on a Thursday night… I think we all knew that wasn’t who should have been seeing it.”

I’m struck by this notion that only certain audiences should be allowed to see certain kinds of work, and it really troubles me.

Naturally, the comment poses the question: why is the critic certain that Chichester audiences will not ‘feel’ Tucker Green’s plays? It seemed to me that one of the many elements that make these plays great is the fact of their being rooted in a certain milieu while expressing universal, human emotions – those of loss and grief.

Each time I saw the plays at the Minerva, I was moved by how certain themes and lines in the play resonated in a completely different way from their original productions at the Royal Court and the Young Vic.

Indeed, if you prick Chichester audiences, they too will bleed

There’s a particular moment in Generations where the grandparents are left behind, grieving, lonely and weary. One of them says: “Death never used to be for the young.” One could sense the empathy from the older members of our audiences rushing over the footlights. These audiences were feeling it, all right. Indeed, if you prick Chichester audiences, they too will bleed.

Another critic, remarking how great writing and performances can take an audience out of themselves, added: “Even a Chichester audience – acutely aware of its white privilege.” Again, I was struck by the suggestion that being brought out of oneself and being aware of one’s white privilege were mutually exclusive. It could be argued that they were natural bedfellows. But perhaps deeper still is the question of how the critic knew that our audience members were acutely aware of their white privilege? I notice that the final clause of the original comment was later removed from the website.

Who gets to decide which sectors of society should see which plays? And should plays only be performed to their own diegetic communities? I do hope not. We’d all be so much the poorer.

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