Private Viewing: Should audiences embrace the opportunity to be surprised?

Members of the Getinthebackofthevan company which attracted complaints for their staging of The Best

Members of the Getinthebackofthevan company which attracted complaints for their staging of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as part of this year's Spill Festival. - Credit: Archant

Modern culture is about embracing risk. Arts editor Andrew Clarke enjoys taking a chance providing the quality is there

Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth a sung-through musical play which provided plenty

Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth a sung-through musical play which provided plenty of food for thought wrapped up in an entertaining show. A new piece of theatre which provided a rewarding experience. - Credit: Archant

One of my firm beliefs when it comes to the arts is that you don’t have to like everything. When people get all outraged at some piece of art or a theatrical or musical performance that isn’t to their taste, I try and persuade them not to feel short-changed but just chalk it up to experience.

What I don’t agree with is when people get on their high horse and start demanding that we have ‘no more of this sort of rubbish’ – because it rarely is rubbish. It just isn’t to my taste or perhaps to the taste of Outraged from Tumbridge Wells.

This all came to a head this week when a national newspaper reported about an outraged posting to the New Wolsey Theatre’s website about the Spill Festival’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. The complainant was of the opinion that this not only wasn’t a very good production but it also demonstrated dreadfully bad taste because the cast all stripped naked half way through the show and started slapping one another.

It seems to me so far, so Spill. What it comes down to is the fact that the person making the complaint wasn’t aware that this was not a standard New Wolsey show. Being a Spill Festival production, it was always going to present an alternative view of the 1982 musical.


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The New Wolsey certainly flagged it up as a Spill Festival event and the ticket buyer has to take a certain amount of responsibility for knowing what they are booking up for. No-one should be hoodwinked into booking something they don’t want to see but equally every potential audience member should find out a little about the show beforehand. The arts in 2014 is all about making active decisions, and informed choices.

The days when you could simply block book an entire season safe in the knowledge that you wouldn’t encounter anything that would upset your view of the world has long gone. There’s not one audience out there but a whole variety with a myriad of perspectives on the world which have to be reflected.

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Not everything will be to your taste. Not everything is to my taste but I try and see as much as I can. If I find later that it’s not my cup-of-tea, I will have always made sure beforehand that, even if I didn’t understand what it was trying to say, then at least it was a good example of its type.

I always encourage people to give something a go because some of the most rewarding and surprising evenings out have come from going to see something that I haven’t encountered before. It’s always good to break new ground. Obviously this comes with a degree of risk. You are not going to like everything but if you research it first, at least you making an informed decision. While some evenings will end with the feeling of: “Well that’s two hours I’ll never get back,”, others will leave you absolutely elated and you’ll spend the next two days telling your friends that you’ll have to see this show, this band, this exhibition before it ends its run.

Contemporary arts is all about risk. It’s all about creating something that speaks to us. It doesn’t have to be difficult to be worthwhile. The best works have an element of humour in them because life is funny. It’s not all gloom and doom. Also, messages, if you have to have them, are best tucked away in entertainment. Tim Firth’s modern musical This Is My Family is a perfect example of that. A clever dissection of family life, this musical play engages the audience and has lots to say about our modern relationships, but Firth never forgets that the best way to inform is to entertain.

But, there are lots of different approaches. Some work better than others depending on your taste. Coming back The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, I am a huge supporter of Spill. I think it is an absolutely fantastic addition to our cultural calendar. I would be the first to admit that I don’t understand a lot of it. Some of it definitely isn’t too my taste but there’s plenty which I find fascinating.

I also know that it provides a platform in Suffolk for some of the best performance art to be created anywhere in the world.

Ipswich and Suffolk in general has a growing reputation for creating world-class art and culture. Why wouldn’t we want to host something as cutting-edge as Spill, particularly as it is the brainchild of Ipswich-born Robert Pacitti – a performance artist with an international reputation. Let’s celebrate diversity.

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