Free Speech And The Theatre?


Yesterday I went to a Theatre Conference in Bath. While there I witnessed liberal PC fascism in all it’s polite ugliness.

There was lots of talk about theatre ‘art’ & theatre ‘artists’. One of the punters was a pretty eccentric older gentleman who expressed himself very bluntly. He expressed the opinion that theatre isn’t ‘art’ as it is about producing product (shows) for consumers (the audience). I have some sympathy with this point of view in as much as I certainly don’t find the words ‘art’ and ‘artists’ to be useful in discussing theatre. However, even I’m not daft enough to say this out loud at such a gathering of ‘theatre artists’. Anyway, once he had said this ultimate blasphemy of blasphemies, blimey the knives were out. A little later in a discussion on disability in the theatre the claim was made by the disabled actor speaking that (i) Only disabled actors should play disabled characters (ii) Disabled actors should be able to play all characters. The eccentric old guy made what I regarded as a perfectly reasonable point about the fact that all actors are ‘limited’ by type casting (I for example almost exclusively played nerds and loveable wallies) and that disabled actors can’t help but be subject to the same phenomenon. Well, bloody hell, the chair turned on him as if he was a Nazi in a synagogue singing Deutschland, Deuschland über alles! She accused him of being offensive to the disabled actor speaking and tried to silence him. He assumed he had been misunderstood and tried to explain he wasn’t saying anything offensive but he was told he was not allowed to speak any more. He then unsurprisingly got pretty shirty, not half as shirty as I would have got if she had spoken to me that way, but he did raise his voice and tried to assert his right to speak but to no avail. For the rest of the conference he was treated as a pariah and not allowed to speak.

I then tweeted “Attending [conference] and just witnessed how oppressive liberal consensus operates. Disgraceful silencing of non-mainstream views.” Then today I was ‘set upon’ in twitterland and amongst other things accused of condoning ”unnecessary aggressive attacks’. So now it seems I too am some sort of disabled-hating, bully-condoning… generally nasty person, because I am prepared to say that I don’t like people being silenced in an open public forum!

The whole thing would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying! This was a conference about theatre for God’s sake and yet it was made clear that comments that went against the orthodox liberal consensus were simply not going to be allowed to be expressed. And lets get this straight, I did not hear this eccentric old man say anything offensive or express anything in an offensive manner. He simply said some things some people didn’t like.

How did we get to this? That people are silenced at a theatre conference for saying unpopular things! One of the things that attracted me to the theatre when I was young was that it was full of insecure, eccentric weirdos (just like me) who seemed to think for themselves and were prepared to say all sorts of  weird things I hadn’t heard said before.

My theatre hero and the man closest to a genius I have ever worked with, is the theatre director, Mike Bradwell, who is a foul-mouthed, dysfunctionally rebellious curmudgeon who drinks like a very thirsty fish. Over the years Mike has said more offensive things to more offensively officious bureaucratic chunts than any man I have ever known and he is loved for it by me and the myriad of his admirers! When I first worked for Mike’s company, Hull Truck, back in 1982 it had 2 full-time staff and no building. Mike left the company in ’84 but today Hull Truck has a brand spanking new building costing millions of Lottery funds, with both a main house and a studio theatre and about 12 full-time staff none of whom are actors, writers or directors.

Today mainstream theatre in the UK  has for the most part adopted the ‘professional’ culture and ideology of politically correct, corporate, local government; the appalling world of “social cohesion”, “full cost recovery funding”, “sustainability”, “innovation’, “diversity”, “corporate sponsorship”, “marketing”, ‘arts organisations”, ‘cultural sectors’ and ‘creative industries”.

None of these words represent things that in and of themselves are bad, indeed taken singularly they are mostly all good. But put together they represent the almost complete bureaucratic, bourgeois, professionalisation of the Arts. And it seems that in this world of ‘spreadsheets’ and ‘mission statements’ there is no longer a place for odd balls, eccentrics, rebels, anarchists, sceptics, clowns,  drunks, loners or mavericks; ‘fringe’ ideas no longer seem to have a place in the British theatre – even on ‘the fringe’.

What a sad, sad state of affairs.

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2 responses to “Free Speech And The Theatre?

  1. A very interesting read – and also quite a sad indictment of the society we all live in today.

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