Lesson 29

There’s a story.
It’s called The Emperor’s New Clothes.
We all know it.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote it.
Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen, that’s who.
love musicals!!!

Anyway, the story is about people being sold a lie so well that they believe it.
They believe it because they don’t want to be the one person to question things.
And therefore be considered foolish.
Or ignorant.
Or uncultured.
But one guy – depending on the telling, he’s a young child, or a courtier – he doesn’t see what everyone else sees.
Where everyone else sees – or claims to see – a regally dressed King, he sees a naked, old man.
And he wonders why.
Is he missing something?
Or are they all blind?

In recent times I have been reminded of this tale.
I have felt like this boy.
I was reluctant to discuss this, because…
I was scared of being the foolish, pointed at, non-conformist child.
I can’t be the only one who sees that the Emperor is naked.

I love theatre.
I love writing it.
I love performing in it.
And I love seeing it.
It makes me happy.
Sometimes I see a play that I don’t love.
Or that I’m critical of.
That just makes me love the theatre more.
Because it’s a subjective art form.
Theatre – as with all art – exists as a catalyst for thought, for discussion and for change.
For every show that I feel strongly positive about, there’ll be plenty of people with a very different reaction.
And vice versa.
The vice versa is where I find myself right now.
You see, when I left Australia, I left with a certain level of frustration in relation to the state of the arts there.
And I don’t just mean in relation to the government funding – or lack thereof.
There is always a lot happening there.
Particularly in Melbourne.
There is theatre everywhere.
Unfunded, perhaps, but happening.
That made me happy.
Made me proud.
But the majority of it, the majority of the theatre that I was seeing, felt the same.
It wasn’t derivative, it wasn’t inspired by or feeding from other works, it was all: the same.
I realise that this happens here in the UK too…
Everywhere, in fact.
But the particular companies/artists I had problems with were those who were gaining attention for work that I didn’t feel deserved its buzz.
I left Australia.
I assumed to leave those particular people/groups/companies behind.
One of these artists has followed me.
Well, his work has.
You see, there’s this hot, new play in London.
That’s not news.
There’s hot, new plays all the time.
But, this play, it’s gotten itself a bit of a buzz.

Just as I did in Melbourne, I felt the need to get myself a ticket.
After all, how am I supposed to know if this artist has new tricks without going to see the work for myself?
Not only did he not have any new tricks, the whole play felt like something I’d seen at least twice before.
He used the same set tricks, the same styling choices, the same theatrical devices that he always used.
And at the end of the play?
Just as always.
The audience burst into rapturous applause.
Many people jumped to their feet.
I sat where I was.
Refusing to be bullied into a standing ovation.
One of the actors eyeballed me.
I was sitting front and centre.
It was clear I was sitting.
I continued to applaud – after all, the actors had worked very hard and deserved recognition and acknowledgement of that fact – but I would not stand.
As we all filed out of the theatre, and my ears opened to the comments and chats around me, I realised, once again, that the artist in question had sold those new “clothes” to a brand new kingdom.

Lesson 29

I don’t feel the need to attack this individual artist.
I know it seems that I am – but this is not my intention.
I’m not naming names.
Some people will know exactly who I’m talking about.
Others won’t.
That’s fine.

My concern isn’t just about him.
It’s about all that he represents.
Why are so many people moved by something that didn’t sway me in the least?
Why do I feel like that one boy who sees the truth in a flock of sheep?

Am I missing the point?
Is this work actually something groundbreaking and amazing?

All I know is this:
The Emperor was naked.
And I didn’t even care.
If other people are happy to see nudity and fool themselves into believing that they can see golden threads covering the flesh, then who am I to tell them they’re wrong?
But if in “clothing” this character, the costumier is garnering himself an international reputation as a one-of-a-kind visionary, then surely I have the right, and indeed the obligation to point out that there are many-of-this-kind?

I feel like I’m rambling this week.
There’s a point somewhere in what I’m saying, but I can’t seem to pinpoint it.
I could blame that on my confused mental state after enduring yet another of this man’s plays, but that would be unfair.
I guess I’m struggling to remember the moral of Andersen’s story.
Who’s in the right?
The boy who speaks up, I guess…
But isn’t it lonely being that single, blunt voice?

I went to that production with Red-Beard – another code-named friend.
He is a regular theatre goer, but doesn’t work in the industry himself, so when we go to see productions together, it’s not uncommon for him to turn and ask for my opinion as if it were some insider perspective that would influence his view.
Ordinarily – because we see some great stuff – I’m fairly complimentary.
This time…?
This time he got a good ten minute rant.
He was both bemused and shocked – he’d never seen this side of me before.
But, at the end of my rant, I realised that the British public were allowed to be impressed this once.
They’ve not seen any of this guy’s work before.
They don’t know he’s relying on old tricks.

Next time he brings a show to town and people lose their minds over it?
I’m taking it upon myself to start a twitter campaign.

You’re welcome.


(And I realise this did become of a personal vendetta against one artist, but I promise if he were any number of other artists from Australia, I’d have a similar vent.)


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