All artists are influenced by things. Obviously. All works are patchworks of other works, things we’ve read and heard and seen, people we’ve met. I’ve stolen comments about terrible shags for my own works, or pinched in little references from long lost pop singers, like a less arrogant Morrisey, magpie-ing my way through popular culture. However the real skill is in distilling these references into something new, a feat many of this year’s projects have done – which is even more remarkable considering there’s been little new around to influence us. So we’ve all turned back to the classics, and delved deep.
Mark Fenton cites Sarah Kane as a key influence on This Is A Love Song. Once you’ve read this, it’s inescapable: her work explodes throughout the piece like its gorgeously glittering finale. From unachievable but achingly dramatic stage directions, to love stories that are simultaneously tender and brutal, Kane’s work runs through the very heart of the piece, a bayonet wound of style. And yet at the same time, the piece does the fantastic thing of wearing these influences lightly and twisting them into something new.
Same with to hunt violets. Here are shades of Skins, and countless other teen dramas, maybe even a smidge of that old GCSE classic DNA. But this too goes deeper:, takes these tropes of drug taking, high living teens and peels their skins back, exposing the flaws beneath. It culminates in scenes which are subdued and sad, which disperse with images in order to set out cleanly the pain of the characters. It’s a piece which rips away the visuals it shares with more conventional things, and reveals their darkness.
These productions, and the curtailed circumstances of the last year, have shown the importance of taking in your sources and making them new. It might be true that you can never be original, that everything you’ve ever done, thought or said has already been done, thought, said, and criticised by someone else. But it's also true that if you recognise this, you become free to take these unoriginalities and refocus them, to see them anew. That is the importance of influences. That is the essence of good art.