Of Course it’s Feminist

Maddy Costa reading

Maddy Costa

My immediate thought when Mary and I had the idea for Reading the Internet was to read this piece, but the closer the day came, the more I kept changing my mind. Scrolling twitter on the bus to the venue – and I keep trying to get off twitter, mostly it infuriates me, but it’s through twitter that I encounter pieces like this – the last tweet I read on pulling up to my stop was one by Diana Damian, linking to this piece again. It was as if chance stepped in to tell me: this is definitely the one to read. It’s called ‘It’s 2015, of Course it’s Feminist’, by an Australian critic called Jane Howard.

Skip the intro.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about age and criticism.

Recently, I was writing about Look Back In Anger, considered ‘the birth of contemporary British theatre’ –. In the process — a recent essay by Michael Billington where he mentions seeing it in 1957.

1957.

When I read this I had a realisation: “Oh. That’s how old he is.”

Billington is the first-string theatre critic for the Guardian, a paper he has been with since 1971. That year is inconceivable to me.[She thinks that’s weird: I USED TO BE HIS EDITOR. I remember working at the Guardian on the celebration of his 30th anniversary on the paper and realising that he’d been with them since BEFORE I WAS BORN.]

Last year, he wrote a series of essays called “Best Shakespeare productions.” [Ugh.] In it, he wrote things like this — about Cymbeline: “I’ve seen a succession of fine Imogens including Peggy Ashcroft (1957), Vanessa Redgrave (1962), [more names blah blah]”

“Including”!

Want to know how many times I’ve seen Cymbeline? Zero. — my chances of guessing the lead character — Imogen before I read this? Probably also zero.

In 2012, Three Kingdoms opened in London, — dubbed the new birth of contemporary British theatre[i] [uh footnotes, won’t bother with them]. A collaboration between — it clashed together a British script with European direction in ways that astounded.

And Billington wrote “everything is overstated and overheated […] it’s as if the manic moments of Fawlty Towers had been choreographed by Pina Bauch.”

Meghan Vaughn[ii] [oh she’s misspelled her name] — said on her blog:

every so often everything would come together in the most beautiful fucked-up musical bit with a guy singing or half-singing or mumbling maybe and Glitter [something German] and shadows in the right places and it was just really really really BEAUTIFUL to watch.

As the season of Three Kingdoms played, this divide existed everywhere: young online writers who thought the work was magic and exciting and difficult and EVERYTHING; and old print critics who thought the work was wrong.

I’m a young critic. I’ve no received authority. But I watch new work and think, –, ‘That was EVERYTHING.’

An essential part of being a critic is the thought that you are the most right. Or, at least, you have the ability to be the most right. [Is it? Do I? I don’t know if I think that…]I started to take my theatre criticism more seriously — when I realised how wrong all of the other critics in Adelaide were. — largely male and largely old, and facing that I had the ability to be right.

An early moment — explicitly feminist dance work opened, — only female critic who reviewed it. One critic said — “the quest to be perfect [that] some women have inadvertently placed on themselves.” I was irate.[iii]

Last year, Othello opened in Adelaide . — pretty well signposted — feminist production: the 26-year-old female director’s — Desdemona was reading a copy of Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Just Kids! It’s all there.

And critic Barry Lenny wrote: “Presumably — show Desdemona as a self-assured, independent, modern young woman, but she came across as too far down that road.”

[skip]

It seemed every young critic found it astounding, while the established critics couldn’t find a way into the work at all.

Let’s not — Adelaide thing. Two weeks ago, — Wizard of Oz in Sydney. It seemed every young critic, including myself, found it astounding, while the established critics couldn’t find a way into the work at all. And then Kevin Jackson wrote: [that quote looks boring]

And every time, I just want to take the shoulders of these men and yell “It’s 2015! Of course it’s feminist!”

[oh wait, I should probably have read that quote. So Kevin Jackson

the Department of Social Services ought — help those poor artists […] to aid them in their seemingly continuous cyclic wheel of depressive experiences of being a woman. […] No progress in sight at all for those female psyches –.

Of course it’s feminist!]

I know it’s too simple to say this is an age thing.

Billington writes so intelligently — the knowledge he can bring to Shakespeare after having seen so many Imogens is astounding.

Closer to home, Alison Croggon is one of our best critics, — She started in print in the 1980s, — her blog Theatre Notes pioneered online theatre criticism —

We’ll never be an authority like print critics once were.

In this, perhaps what I’ve been thinking of an age divide is actually about how the internet shapes our craft as critics. We all have to think we’re the most right, but when confronted with the internet that rightness is challenged. — Does the internet allow us to be an authority more open to challenges? The most right, but with endless questions?

Perhaps what I’m really trying to grapple with is not an age divide between critics at all, but the age divide that will occur in me. What will it look like as I grow older as a critic: will I be able to gain knowledge while retaining sheer excitement for those things I can’t quite understand? I hope the internet and its refusal for singular authority lets that be true.

Because all I know is this: I hope, from here until forever, I’ll be able to always look at a new, scary performance and feel like it is magic and exciting and difficult and EVERYTHING.

[And then here are the footnotes:]

[i] I’ve tried rather hard to find a specific reference for this idea [I can’t remember what the idea was, maybe I should scroll – oh look, it’s me!] Maddy Costa: “Three Kingdoms plays in London for just two and a half weeks, yet it has the potential to affect British theatre far beyond that.” [Oh god I didn’t say that did I? I didn’t even read these footnotes the first time.] Considering the conservatism and love of narratives in British theatre, she goes on, “No wonder so much work on British stages in 2012 feels as though it could have been made any time since the 1950s. Perhaps Three Kingdoms really is a gratuitous mess. [Ha!] But a new generation of theatre writers begs to differ – and they might just be the people who help to drag British theatre into the future.” [That’s exactly the kind of ridiculous thing I’d say.]

[ii] Vaughn came up again in discussion [whatever whatever] Also she reviewed a show entirely in emojis, [oh my god she did and it’s the best thing ever]

[iii] [that’s enough I think]

Text doctored and read by Maddy Costa

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