It’s been interesting to follow writers over the last year debating how to continue enjoying a cultural life – nay, career – once you’ve had a baby. Lyn Gardner has been debating the issue in the Guardian just this week. With a tiny human in tow there’s obvious dilemmas for theatremakers and performers, but also for the critics too, I’ve found.
Internet reviewers boring on about the importance of ‘critical thinking’ are – let’s make no bones – the worst. But still, my own situation has me at a bit of an impasse (to say nothing of the fact I’ve been offline for a few weeks now after failing to notice my domain name expired).
Being driven to make art, not to mention having your livelihood depend on it, is obviously more of a noble calling than enjoying bashing out a couple of hundred words’ critique and not being able to do it as much as you used to; but still, reviewers do have their uses every now and then and I hope this blog is a worthwhile resource from time to time too. But poor old MADEUP is not what it was.
I saw about 20 shows in 2015, when previously I probably easily caught two or three times that in a year. That means this blog isn’t as comprehensive as it used to be, certainly not as up to date, and even more higgledy-piggledy than ever. It’s a struggle to balance grown up interests with the unpredictability of baby needs, and there’s simply no contest of which one’s more important these days.
Here’s some of the things you end up against when you’re a reviewer with a baby:
● A bastardised sense of time: For the first few months it’s fairly easy to get out of a night. But once sleep training and routine become the name of the game, curtain up and bedtime are always going to clash, and it’s got to be a bloody good show to entice me out of the house after all that and a full day at work.
● Off-the-scale unintentional tardiness: As baby has got older, on the rare occasion I attempt to show my face anywhere the ETA has been on an incremental creep into the unacceptable. Five minutes late became half an hour, became a sneak-in at the interval; until the last time I planned to join a pal at the Playhouse and missed the whole show. A possible explanation is the baby’s refusal to fall for the old hug ‘n’ roll as I try to get out of the house.
● Critical collateral damage: And so to the critical navel-gazing. Is a critic who is no longer so curious as relevant as they were before? Sadly there’s an obvious answer to that. And the reviewer who cherry picks only the things they want to see isn’t really going to be able to offer much of a trustworthy view.
Oh, those heady days, with the time, the morbid curiosity and capacity for vino to sit through not just the good, but plenty of the bad and ugly – it all helps to give a critic a wider knowledge and understanding, in fact, surely it’s vital to be able to truly know of which you speak.
True, there’s a certain wisdom comes with the realisation that life’s too short to sit through a shit play – and a freedom in knowing nothing’s worth suffering through a Ben Elton jukebox musical for again IN YOUR LIFE – but not having the time (or, increasingly, the inclination) to really scope what’s out there, for good or ill, can only have a negative effect on your critical eye.
● You go soft. Horror, thrillers, any kind of violence, they’re all suddenly too much to bear. There’s no longer any desire to be challenged, disturbed, grossed out, pushed to the limits of good taste. Real life is suddenly dramatic and unpleasant enough. I’ve had to ditch all sorts; the final series of gory biker schlock-nonsensefest Sons of Anarchy remains unwatched after six years of dedication, along with the new-found concern its creator Kurt Rutter must be mentally ill. See also: George RR Martin.
● Deadlines. Much less of a priority than they used to be. Okay, in the social media age, readers increasingly expect things asap. But really, no-one’s going to die if my thoughts on the latest production of Bouncers somewhere don’t appear for immediate consumption. Shame about not getting on to the promo posters, though.
● It’s all about time. Things might be different if this was a real paid job and it made money, but it doesn’t. Time and effort are all the MADEUP project asks for, and sometimes it just simply doesn’t seem important enough anymore.
Conclusion: That’s not to say it’s all over. I take my son to anything and everything I can get away with carrying him in to, and fourteen months into his young life I can still say I’ve never seen a single episode of Peppa Pig, which sounds bloody awful.
These days, matinees are a new friend; I’ll take time off from my day job to catch up with shows; there’s a lovely world of children’s theatre out there that we’ve already started to review/ nap through; in the good weather, outdoor shows are a help for reviewers with kids, and nobody minds the arsing about as much; Vasily Petrenko conducted a children’s concert this week, which is one for culture (ahem) starved mummies everywhere; even our old beloved improvathons had a children’s hour. Adapting to life post-babies is the name of the game. It’s possible.
But, pour moi, what does this altered situation – having next to no free time, little inclination to take a chance on the unknown, and simply losing touch with a lot of what’s going on in the Liverpool theatre scene – mean for a niche Liverpool theatre critic? Is it worth carrying on? What’s the point if MADEUP can’t be comprehensive, clued up and fully involved? Have I lost my USP? Or is a little something every now and then better than nothing? Will that make the site a bit amateurish? Does it even matter?
With all that in mind, all there is to be said is that MADEUP is up and running again for now, and we’ll just have to see what the future brings.