Say Hello Wave Goodbye

So, after six years in Manchester I’m moving on. It’s hard to say why or whether this is the right decision but sometimes you have to go with your instincts. You can’t stand still. You have to find new things, see new places, feel life.

When I shut my eyes I see the sea. Manchester is a long way from the sea. I was born in Scotland. It feels the right time to go home.

I thought it’s a good time to reflect on what’s gone by.

When I started blogging, there weren’t many people covering theatre outside the mainstream. I am indebted to Laura Maley and her blog Cultural Shenanigans for showing me how theatre criticism could be. I have learnt a lot from the way Laura wrote about theatre.

I hope that I achieved my main aim which was to introduce people to theatre that might be just outside their comfort zone. I hope I have been supportive of new work whilst retaining a degree of critical objectivity.

Manchester theatre has changed so much over the years. When I started I could list the shows that I thought were worth seeing, and I could see them all. Sometimes it needed a little digging to find the more obscure shows.

These days it’s impossible to keep track of what is out there. If I could divide myself up, I could see two or three shows every night and then spend the whole night writing up reviews. On the other hand, it is a major weakness in Manchester theatre that there there is no central website where you can say ‘I have a free night, what should I see?’

Manchester has become a magnet for innovative theatre companies, and it is amazing how many talented actors we have now. The scale of production and innovation is immense. Whatever anyone says, our theatres – Lowry, HOME, Royal Exchange, Oldham, Hope Mill, Bolton Octagon, etc – provide incredible support to individuals and companies. I hope this continues.

I hope the future continues to offer as many opportunities. Finance is always an issue and it would be a tragedy if the high profile projects took all the money at the expense of the many smaller projects. Manchester will always be a better place if culture is supported from the bottom up.

And I will always have the memories of performances that have changed the way I see theatre.

Shrine of Everyday Things at Contact, 2015, which convinced me that if you put together talented producers with talented young people, you can produce something extraordinary.

Love on the Dole from Salford Community Theatre, 2016, I’ll never forget marching down the A6, a perfect example of what you can do both with the local community and with promenade theatre.

Dante or Die’s productions of Handle with Care, User not Found and Take on Me, brilliant theatre in interesting spaces.

HOME has done something very special in Manchester, from their amazing site specific performances (Angel Meadow, Romeo & Juliet, 2014) to the main stage performances (Circle Mirror Transformation, 2018) and the increasing amount of work in the studio, there is a new vibrancy here.

And the Royal Exchange will always be a huge part of my life in Manchester, for so many reasons.

It is testimony to the strength of Manchester theatre that there are now so many people writing about our theatre and talking about it on social media.

Good criticism is essential for theatre to survive. A culture that awards every show four or five stars is unsustainable. That sort of system exists only for the benefit of the click-driven websites. I believe that in the long run overoptimistic reviews discourage everyone from going to the theatre.

Good criticism asks the question of whether this show is right for me? Does this sound like the sort of thing I want to see? How well does it cover the issues I want to see discussed?

Good criticism assumes that the audience is not homogenous. That a performance will appeal to some people but not others. It is up to the good critic to describe a performance in a way that tells the prospective audience member whether it is right for them.

Good criticism takes account of the fact that ambition and innovation are the lifeblood of the future. Shows that try to do something different should be applauded, even when they don’t quite work.

Some of the most interesting theatre is being made at the edges of what we might think of as ‘theatre’, where theatre meets dance, video, performance art and live art. We need to be able to objectively assess how well these work. The criteria we use may well be different.

Theatre is never good nor bad, it just works better for some people than others.

It has been such a privilege to review theatre over the last five years.

I hope that I have made a difference.

I have certainly had a ball.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

4 Responses to “Say Hello Wave Goodbye”

  1. Dear Dave, this is a blow to great theatre criticism in Manchester! As a theatre producer and director I have so enjoyed reading your reviews, not only because they are well written – unlike so many blogs and review websites out there – but because you are passionate about theatre for everyone! Alan Hulme is a reviewer who I have long admired – one of the best theatre reviewers in this region – he started the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards over 30 years ago taken up by the terrific Kevin Bourke when MEN stooped them. Both great theatre writers and for me without sounding sycophantic you join them. I hope you continue to enjoy theatre whereever the call of the sea leads you and that before you go you will come and see our Dracula – The Blood Count of Heaton press night 25th July then perfs until 11th Aug. Come and get some final Feelgood magic before you leave. All very7 best wishes and thank you for supporting us over the last few years. Caroline Clegg Artistic Director Feelgood Theatre Productions

  2. Susan Gunn says:

    Sad news for Manchester, loved reading your inciting reviews, goodluck & best wishes for the future. Scotland’s gain is our loss…

  3. Paul Arnold says:

    Dear Dave,

    Sorry you’re going.
    Enjoyed your reviews.

    Good luck and best wishes,

  4. Andrew Wild says:

    Damn – such a sad loss. A lovely man, taken too soon. Sending love to his family.

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