I’m not persuaded by the perceived distinction between ‘experimental’ theatre artists and ‘mainstream’, or worse, ‘commercial’ theatre artists. In any instance of making a show, the creators need to take into account who it’s for – the context including the size and shape of the auditorium, (and it’s history and porgramme), the same of the producer, the city and culture where it’s taking place – and what expectations this might inspire in the audience. The idea that we make theatre in a vacuum, or that it will be possible for the audience to arrive free of preconception (even, and possibly especially, if they are a new audience), is a naive one. At this point the artists have their artistic freedoms to make choices. Do they want to subvert, or take advantage of, these expectations? Is it a burden to be making a new play for the Royal Court – it’s certainly going to be a different production and mood if it’s there as opposed to, say, a small found-space venue, even if the director, designer and script are the same. So I hope that we all feel that to make something extraordinary is better than making something ordinary. Having said that, if you are making a production of a farce for a large auditorium, and you have a stunningly radical idea, you’d be doing a poor job if you surrendered to the thrill of the moment and implemented the idea, destroying the delicate construction of the play in the process. The work on the script (and the brilliance of the writer) has introduced the idea to you – but it might have no place in this production. which is not to stop you picking up on the idea and making a piece of theatre elsewhere, later, which expresses that idea to its full.
What I believe is this: that the delicate judgments of an Alan Bennett, Sheridan or Goldsmith, writing for a large popular audience, do not come from different impulses than those of our more esoteric, modish or obscurantist cult heroes. They’re just expressed in such a way as to serve the purpose of the immediate context of making the play. Which makes me wonder why unimaginative writers and directors are encouraged at all. Why can’t we be allowed to make mysterious, ‘arty’ installation pieces which demand close attention one month, and crowd-pleasing moral tragedies that cheerfully manipulate the emotions the next? Certainly the commercial companies are to blame for being absurdly risk-averse, when they know that the real hits have innovation shot through them.
Perhaps it’s a matter of taste, and our peers don’t believe that we can enjoy both aesthetics. If you think this, I think you are wrong.