Yesterday I went to see DV8 perform Can We Talk About This? at The National Theatre.
This month I've gone a bit nuts and decided to go to the theatre on my own money. Nearly every time I've been to the theatre in the last few years has been when someone else is paying or it has cost £10 or less. This month I decided to go to expensive theatre and damn the financial consequences. I can survive on a shoestring for the rest of the month. I usually do anyway. I'm in a position I would call privileged poverty, after the rent, travel and food etc... is covered at the start if the month there are no real consequences if I run out of what I have left. I have no dependants. I get paid again next payday. My income is pretty small my partners even smaller but so generally are our outgoings. With no kids etc... and a stable job you really are free to fuck up. So this month I decided to scrape by and be nourished by art.
The cost of both these theatre trips was doubled as I was paying for my lower salaried girlfriend (I repeat: we are lucky and we choose to earn less and have more time). But since theatre is obscenely priced (although cheaper than a stadium gig or a big comedian) going to see these shows really does mean a highly frugal month. I currently have £10 to last till the 28th.
Was it worth it?
Well DV8 was the most expensive of the two shows. But going to see them is a bit like catching a band you really love when they come to town. I've loved DV8 since I first came across them aged 19 but I've never seen them live.
Their dance pieces on film blew me away. They changed how I thought about dance and about performance. They expressed sexuality, gender and specifically the complexity and contradictions of masculinity through movement in a way that I had never been able to using language. They transformed me. They led the way to me falling in love with contemporary dance and physical theatre. When I found out they were in town I just had to see them.
However, it turns out I am not a fan of the "new album" and they didn't really play any hits! The piece didn't even
contain much dance. Although to be fair what little movement there was did have the power to amaze and transport.
The show was really a big polemic rant, some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn't, some of which was provocative, some of which was simplistic. All of which was one tone.
I would say it wasn't entertaining. It wasn't designed to entertain. I'm not talking about entertainment in a narrow sense, there are many ways to be entertained. It didn't really hit ant of them. It wasn't boring exactly as it contained facts. But it wasn't transporting.
To be fair I'm sure listening to a verbatim transcripts of interviews and articles might entertain some people well enough. But I don't feel the show fits into many people's definition of entertainment.
It also didn't give me anything new. There wasn't really an exchange. I gave the show my money and it gave me back stuff I've read in newspapers and heard on TV and radio. Albeit with a particular slant added. Since it was designed to give you these facts pretty dryly, without narrative, characterisation, without even a focus on their wonderful dance skills, I don't think it would communicate well to an audience unfamiliar with the material. It wasn't designed to communicate.
And it begs the question: In a capitalist system is it justifiable to take someone's money, a lot of their money, and in exchange for that to give them a political rant?
I don't pay politicians to make campaign speeches. I don't pay the people who rant at speakers corner. When you go on a protest you don't pay people to hold their placards or to talk into the megaphones. When a friend tells you their thoughts on a political issue down the pub you don't slip them a tenner.
This piece wants to communicate a polemic to me. Fine. But why should I pay for that? Especially if it isn't mixed with entertainment. Surely I paid for entertainment.
Don't get me wrong I believe in art being provocative. I believe in artists creating polemics too, although I prefer them to be more accessible, interesting and entertaining. But then ultimately I believe that art should be free. That all art should be accessible to all. And I don't support the capitalist system. But I do have to live in it.
I feel that if you are going to charge for your art you have a duty to your audience to at least try and entertain them. Sure, you may fail. Sure, you may only entertain some of them. But that should be your goal. Actually I feel this way even if the art is offered up for free. Art is for the audience.
Sadly I don't think that anything that costs £35 per person can be a polemic rant and be justified. I think it also received arts council funding too.
Thankfully the other show I went to was both much cheaper (although still in my view overpriced, but as I say any price to me is overpriced, and price isn't something that performers and creators really set anyway) and also much, much better.
It was entertaining, provocative, difficult, moving, thought provoking, personal and universal. It was called God/Head and created and performed by Chris Goode. If you can ever see it you should. I'm not sure if it'll ever be performed again.
The DV8 show is called Can We Talk About This? But who does it want to talk about this with? The price doesn't encourage attendance from people who don't make a certain amount of money. It doesn't invite people who might disagree with it to come along. Sure, west end musicals and other populist shows are more expensive. But people who buy tickets to them know they will be entertained. They know the band will break out their greatest hits. They can guarantee a return.
If theatre wants to talk to more people it needs to be more affordable and it also needs to offer audiences something.
There is so much that the stage can offer people that can't be found elsewhere and that's what stage artists need to focus on. The magic of powerful performance is what DV8 need to tap back into. If they want to make political arguments they should go on Newsnight and Question Time where it doesn't cost £35 to listen to them.