17 April 2019
Nathan Dunn is on hand with some early hours advice
Right. I’m gonna speak candidly and pretend we’re mates for a minute. For two reasons: firstly, you all seem sound and I reckon over a few pints we probably could be mates.
Secondly, I don’t want to use my platform as a critic to talk down to you as if I am the sole arbiter of theatrical opinion. I’m not going to patter this review with extensive qualitative analysis and deny you the opportunity of responding because my words are published in physical and online copies. It’s an open letter; and a conversation.
Theatre is also a conversation. It’s easy to forget that, particularly as it’s a medium where one person (or more) seems to do all of the talking. But that’s the art of theatre, it subverts this preconception in various different ways that all lead to the same end goal – the audience being internally active whilst being externally inactive, usually with some intellectual or emotional reward being attained by both parties in the process. I didn’t know until writing this that the words spoken on stage by you, Jack, actually belong to you, Jake. It’s a good job Jamie didn’t get a large speaking role otherwise this would be well fucking confusing, so when I say ‘you’, treat it as more of a collective address – it’ll make our lives easier.
Standing Too Close On Our Own In The Dark is the best show title I’ve heard in a while. It made me really keen to see what you had to offer, so I’ll give you that. Although your title may have lured me in, I’m not totally convinced by the content – or more specifically our role in it. I appreciate you quipped early on in the piece that you knew how self-indulgent it was, but I’m afraid the recognition of your own stunted self-awareness isn’t a valid justification. It was unadulterated, clichéd self-absorbance that we simply bore witness to.
Break-ups are shite, lads. Lost, fleeting loves are shite. Not being one of the cool kids is shite. We know this. So what else are you telling us? I suppose what I’m trying to say is: why are we here? What is our role in your lament? To sit and gawp at how quirkily endearing your poetic sentimentality is?
This girl as well – I appreciate she’s special to you, but what are we to gain from your platitudinous presentation of her character? Who is she? Why should we be arsed? I can’t tell if the show is about you or her, but it’s definitely not about us, so again: why are we here? These words look crueller than they sound but I don’t say this with venom; I say it with the rough encouragement of a mate sat on the curb outside a nightclub trying to pick up his other mates’ bottom lip off the floor. I appreciate your desire to embrace your own vulnerability and respect it. I see exactly where you’re coming from, but I think you might have backed the wrong horse to carry the weight of your emotional torment.
Music. You flirt with it in the piece – it’s undoubtedly gig theatre and a format that works for the most part, but your songs do more justice than your performative protestations ever could. Why is this gig-theatre and not a song-cycle? Or an EP? Or even an album? For listeners, music is short and armed with an undeniable sensory emotional trigger. The investment is small and affordable. Theatre is a different beast; far more demanding and fragile. You’re fucking great musicians (assuming Jack can play – give him a triangle if not), I don’t think anyone would’ve complained if there were more songs and less wailing.
Within your ‘romantic’ ramblings too, you neglected the more interesting, provocative points of discussion that would’ve offered us the beginning of a useful discourse. Anxiety was raised at one point, with an emphasis on how bad it gets, yet dropped immediately and not properly readdressed. This is not to suggest your pain for my pleasure, but it’s clear you are very (arguably too) comfortable talking about your lost love and how much her absence hurt. However, the universality of heartbreak doesn’t automatically make it inspiringly relatable. Instead, I feel I would have been inspired and moved to see you talk about the things you probably don’t want to. Although, I would only encourage this if it would promise to be a cathartic and beneficial experience for you. Trauma as spectacle is bollocks.
You might feel that me initially claiming to be your mate doesn’t justify the content that followed. You might also feel that by making this a dialogue between me and you, I’ve neglected the interests every other person reading. If you can identify that, then maybe you can also see something similar occurring in your own work.
I’ve asked a lot of questions, and at this stage in our dialogue it’s up to you if you want to answer, but I’m listening.
Photo credit: Beatrice Debney