Chris’s hierarchy of appealing to authority

Okay, in a very rare break for this blog, I’m going to write about someone that’s not theatre-related at all, or even arts-related. This is something that frequently crops up in arguments about the the arts, but no more or less than anywhere else. But with an general election coming and the inevitable rise in poorly-researched claims to back up your favourite party, it’s about time I said something about this. I’m even going to be completely serious here are refrain from snarky asides that I usually make.

The practice I’m referring to is appealing to authority. This is where people attempt to back up their claims by citing the research of some sort of expert who is meant to back up the position. Now, in theory, this should be a good way of proving a point, showing someone else who knows what they’re doing and has done the research. But, in practice, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and instead is used as a tactic to mislead people into believing their claim is proven when it isn’t. If you are doing it yourself, chances are you don’t realise you’re doing it because you are hearing what you want to hear and not thinking about whether this really supports you are strongly as I think it does.

So, as an attempt to help people appealing to authority to come up with decent arguments, and to enable the rest of us to spot the hogwash, I have taken inspiration from the legendary Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement. Using this model, I am pleased to introduce Chris’s Hierarchy of Appealing to Authority.

Diagram reproduces headings and sub-headings below.
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment, Uncategorized

The Red Lion and East is East

Newcastle’s big two theatres have been busy in the last month, with main shows going head to head at the same time. Unusually, both productions are revivals. Not too unusual for Northern Stage to do a revival (though less often than it used to be), but unusual for Live to do this. The Red Lion only just counts a revival, having premiered at the National  Theatre in 2015, but off-hand, the only revivals I can think of at Live are re-runs of successful shows previously premiered there. Even Northern Stage haven’t done that many revivals lately if you don’t count the “concept” productions such as Hedda Gabbler and Cyrano de Bergerac.

But as far as revivals go, both productions are revivals of excellent plays, and but companies have done an great job of bringing the plays back.

The Red Lion

Red_lion_7I didn’t pay much attention to The Red Lion when Live Theatre first announced it because neither the play nor the author rang a bell. But it should have done, because whilst I didn’t remember the name, I certainly did remember one of his plays, Dealer’s Choice, performed by a then-unknown Dugout Theatre shortly before their rise to stardom. This play, a dark play about six men trapped in a dangerous spiral of high-stakes poker, always stuck in my mind amongst the hundreds of plays I’ve seen. He’s notable for other plays too, but this is the one I based my high expectations on, and he did not disappoint.

Set in the world of semi-professional non-league football, this play is inspired in part by Marber’s own experience in saving his own local club from bankruptcy. So you might think that such a play would be a homage to the beautiful game, free from the influence of spoilt millionaires, and self-serving sha. Guess again. Cheating and greed are just as rife, and the story centres around a bung that goes wrong. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Brighton Fringe 2017 – as it happens

Thursday 25th May: So with my journey to Brighton looming imminently, I can stop talking about other reviews and look at my own. So, a reminder of the ground rules:

Every play I see is eligible for review. If it’s good, or it has potential, it will get a review here in the live coverage for immediate reaction, and a more considered review when I do my roundup. Beyond that, I do not make any attempt to select notable plays and what I see is entirely decided by what I want to see as a punter.

However, you are welcome to invite me to review your play, and if you supply me with a press ticket, I will normally prioritise seeing you over other plays. If I get a large number of requests I may have to say no to some reviews, but I do not expect that to happen in Brighton. (It may happen in Edinburgh, and I’ve set some categories of things I won’t review there, but I’ll talk about that closer to the time.) Please be aware, however, that you get no other favours for supplying a press ticket. I might decide you’re great, and if you’re really good I might bang on about you for years to come, but you won’t get better feedback just because I got a free ticket. That’s the summary. If you want the full rules, they are here and here.

A reminder that I’m around 27th-30th. (I’m returning to Durham on the 31st but I won’t have time to see things before then.) Regardless of what you do, I hope you give me a lot of reasons to be positive over those four days.

Wednesday 24th May: Right, where were we?

Grist to the Mill are coming back with their final showing of The Unknown Soldier and Gratiano, one each. Gratiano got a Highly Recommended from Fringereview earlier in the month, but I’d heard nothing from The Unknown Soldier until yesterday when a review came through quite a while after their most recent performance. Normally this would be no big deal is this play is already drowning in praise from Edinburgh, but this one is a 4* from The Independent. Now, that is something. Reviews from the broadsheets (or websites formerly circulating as broadsheets) at the Brighton Fringe are virtually unheard of, with most looking at Brighton Festival. Very big deal to get their attention, let alone the good review.

Changing the subject a little, another successful show that’s left the Brighton Fringe is Mobile and that is now coming to Sunderland on Friday and Saturday. There are details here, but I’d advise getting a move on because two of the twelve showings are already sold out and another two are going fast.

And it’s not long until I’m coming now. Saturday’s not that far off. Oh heck. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under As it happens

What’s worth watching: Brighton Fringe 2017

Brighton Pier

And here it comes. Festival fringe season is almost upon us. The Vault Festival is a decent stop-gap in February, but for me, nothing beats the thrill of a festival where anyone can take part and, in theory at least, anyone can be the highlight of the whole festival. As always, the more I know about these festivals, the longer the list gets, so expect this to come in stages.

Last year I started off in quite a bit of detail about how Brighton Fringe was changing. The arrival of Sweet Venues and an unprecedented 20% expansion in entries suddenly made this fringe a much bigger event. This year, there’s been more modest changes, and more of the same: a further 7% increase in registrations, and Sweet Venues stays broadly in the same venues, taking on a new one for the sole use of a stage version of Trainspotting. The only disappointing news as that Republic, a venue similar to Spiegeltent, is not coming back this year – it seems this city ain’t big enough for two Spiegeltents.

Anyway, let’s get on. Full rules of how I make recommendations here. Most important one to repeat yet again: I only know about a fraction of the stuff going on in Brighton. So treat this as a cross-section of the good stuff out there, not an exhaustive list.

Right, so what have I got for you? Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under What's worth watching

Educating Rita and September in the Rain

Two productions of classic plays caught my eye this month. One was a headline production at the Gala Theatre, continuing its transition back to a producing theatre. The other was a smaller-scale production down in Yorkshire. Both are excellent scripts where there is little the producing company can do other than be faithful to it, so let’s get straight on with how they did.

Educating Rita

website-large

Starting at the Gala, this is their second in-house production since they restarted this last year with The Fighting Bradfords (or the third if you count their small-scale immersive piece No Turning Back). Last year it was new writing, this year it’s the revival of a classic. Not everyone who came to see last year’s friends will be interested in a revival; but there again, not everyone who watches a tried and tested play wants the lottery of a new work. As the only major theatre in Durham, I think it’s fair enough to have different plays appealing to different audiences. “Rita” (not really her name, but that becomes relevant later) signs on with the Open University wanting to learn more about literature. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. The barrier is partly snobbery – even supportive tutor Frank sometimes lets his casual prejudices slip in – and partly her own fear of this snobbery, but it’s mostly the inverse snobbery of friends, family, and husband who all expect her to stop learning and have a baby like everyone else. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Odds and sods: March 2017

It’s been quite a busy March in terms of interesting developments, mostly as the build-up to the fringes continues. So here’s a catchup on things that grabbed my interest.

Stuff that happened in March

Paddy Campbell

https://i1.wp.com/i4.thejournal.co.uk/incoming/article8300723.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/JS38339316.jpg

Before I go looking at the fringes, a quick bit of local news. Paddy Campbell, hot on the heels of his success with Leaving, has now got himself on this BBC New Talent Hotlist. Before you get too excited, it’s not clear exactly what this entails. He’s one of 200 people in various fields earmarked “as ones to watch.” This is the full press release if anyone can make any more sense of it, but it’s meant to be something good, anyway.

What it does suggest, however, is that out of all the new writers to appear on the scene in the last few years, Paddy Campbell is possibly pulling ahead of the others. With his first two plays getting extra runs to meet demand, and early signs that his third will be getting the same treatment, if the BBC are rating him as the top bet for a writer in the north-east, it looks to good bet to make. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Odds and sods

No easy answer to #OscarsSoWhite

Promo image for Moonlight

COMMENT: It’ll take more than a Best Picture award to solve the racial disparity in Hollywood. The root problem is the broken culture of A-lister casting.

I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I’ve been wanting to comment on the news from the Oscars. My main interest is, of course, the fiasco over reading out the wrong winning film, because I work in a job where I have to think over everything that could go wrong, and, quite frankly, PWC’s fuck-up is unforgivable. But on the expectation that most of my audience aren’t risk management nerds, the other news was Moonlight, the proper winner. After the big #OscarsSoWhite row last year, this was seen my many as a breakthrough where a low-budget film with an all-black cast did so well.

I am hopeless at keeping up with films, so I haven’t seen Moonlight  (or La La Land, or any of the other numerous films I’ve resolved I absolutely must see), but I’ll take the word of everyone who says how great it was. A lot of people are talking about how this will change attitudes to race and casting in Hollywood. Without being able to earwig on what film producers and casting directors say about race, it’s hard to say whether there are attitudes that need changing and whether films like Moonlight can change this, but that’s a red herring. As I see it, the root problem isn’t attitudes. It’s money. Money, and the broken system of casting lead roles that comes with it. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment