Writer: Doug Lucie
Directors: Sean Turner (Blind), Saul Reid (Doing the Business)
Reviewer: Mary Halton
The ‘business of art’ is not tackled head on in theatre with much regularity, for rather glaringly obvious reasons. However, this double bill on the price of sponsorship from Triple Jump Theatre is a reminder that when it comes to money, some things really do not change; aside from obvious references to dates and allusions to persons, either piece could easily have been written in 2014.
Both pieces examine not just the cost of sponsorship – artistic, moral, perhaps even personal – but also the value we place on art and the problem of fetishising the ‘promising young artist’. It chimes rather well with Lyn Gardner’s recent piece on the curse of the ‘promising playwright’ moniker; what exactly does this mean and how do we rate an artist’s work as at first promising and then simply expected?
In Doing the Business, new writing is trendy but must be carefully formatted, cleansed and stripped down to the appropriate tone before it can be ‘invested in’. Businessmen don’t like to hear about troubling political issues in Ireland, and they don’t like lesbians. It’s as simple as that…?
Doing the Businessis a witty two hander – with an investor and a theatre director both playing open hands, each equally convinced in a thoroughly reasonable tone that the other is spinning total propaganda. Peter (Matthew Carter) considers himself and the businessmen he represents to be ordinary, hard working men having their morality ‘lampoon[ed by] Marxist polyeducated scribblers’ in the form of Mike (Jim Mannering). With both convinced that they know what is best for the theatre, one imagines that the piece could have an even more intriguing tone when played to a mixed audience as opposed to one of, well, quite probably Marxist polyeducated scribblers.
It raises interesting questions about the tradeoffs we do make for sponsorship – perhaps usually less overtly dramatic than entirely dropping a ‘promising’ but political playwright, but the subtle sacrifices that must be made in order to align the work with the brand that is willing to commit its name to a theatrical season/venue. Peter makes a valid point – without subsidy in some form there is little chance for theatre. It does not follow that this need be corporate, but for many venues this is simply business as it must be.
Peter is stuffed full of hollow metaphor; his frenzy of insincerity and self assured faith in theatre as a product render little doubt as to which side the playwright sits on, but Lucie does well to present both sides in a provocative fashion.
Blindis an altogether more complex exploration of the personal consequences of the brutalism of market trends in the art world, sadly completely lumbered by a slavish devotion to scene changes entirely comprised of shifting white boxes around to music that breaks not only the rhythm but the tone of the piece. With such a minimalistic set, lighting design could so easily have worked in favour of these overly frequent breaks.
However, persevering through this is Janna Fox as the delightfully foul mouthed Tracey Emin-alike Maddy Burns; an artist in the throes of falling off the rollercoaster of her own constructed persona. In befriending up and coming painter Alan (Cameron Harle), she pitches them both into a heated battle between their patrons.
There are deeper questions here – what it is to know oneself and whether art is merely the constant elaboration of that interrogative process –but the thrust is that of the hefty price of any relationship between art and business, any deconstruction of an artistic work into a commodity. Not since Duncan Ward’s Boogie Woogie has the veneer of the arts scene looked quite so sickly. It feels deliberately ironic that in an entire production about art, we never see a single piece. We cannot form an opinion on the relative merits being debated; we must rely on the patrons as worthy narrators, creating an interesting commentary on the controlled setting of trends by movers and shakers in the art world.
In both Blind and Doing the Business, we see a world weary dissatisfaction with the notion of sponsor relationships, and ultimately a fear of the compromise of artistic integrity in the face of financial need. While the advent of crowdfunding and the growth of site-specific performance not tied to an established venue have afforded many companies a new freedom in their work, this remains a somewhat sobering look in the mirror. Timely is a hideous word, but it feels as though both could never quite be untimely; these questions are, though a little one sided, as valid now as they were when first asked by these productions in 1990 and 2002.
Runs until 9th February