Spoiling

December 2, 2009

Summing up/ expanding on previous discussions in class:

During my brief and limited experience in writing theatre reviews, one of the hardest dedcisions i’ve had to make is whether or not to plot spoil. I know some people are dead against it, some people not bothered and others take individual circumstances into account.

On the one hand, I can fully understand not wanting to spoil. If there is a revelation in the play or a major unexpected event, it seems only courteous to keep is as a suprise for the audience – they are the ones paying the money, therefore should witness these key moments for themselves and react to it accordingly.

Sometimes spoiling can reveal a major twist in a play which is vital to the plot, and should be discovered by the audience in due course. Indeed this unseen knowledge of the play would completely change the meaning of  it for the spectator. The authorial/ directorial intentions of the play would be spolied as the audience member know too much, thus there cannot be the moment of revelation/ shock when it is emant to occur. This would probably result in dull and anti-climatic theatregoing.

An example of this relates to what Karen mentioned in class. She saw a production called ‘Wrecks’, which is in fact a modern re-telling of ‘Oedipus Rex’. As soon as one makes this link, one realises the whole plot of the play without even needing to see it; I think it is a fair assumption that a lot of thatre-goers will be familiar of the story. Therefore if one writes in the review what the title relates to, that would spoil the whole plot of the play and it is unlikely that there will be any suprises, suspense or intrigue whilst watching. So although the play’s title is asking for it a bit, and indeed it would be very hard not to mention the ancient routes of the play, if one does so then it is essentially ruining the experience for any potential viewers.

On the other hand I can condone spoiling, after all it is the theatre critics job to review plays as a whole and state whether the outcomes are worth going to spend money on it or not. And how can you back up your views on a piece of theatre without explaining it as a whole? Ok sometimes this is not so much of an issue, if it is such a well known play as Hamlet for example, it is safe to assume that the audience know what happens. But in general, especially with a lot of new writing being produced at present, the issue is relevant.

I think in some cases, spoiling is essential in describing the plot and/ or the point of a play, and without it one is somewhat cheating the reader. They read the review to get a sense of the play as a whole, and if a review misses out a key event or point in it, then their perception of the play is distorted and not fully rounded. For example in ‘Our Class’ at the National Theatre, the key event which drives the play and makes it such a controversial choice to put on so close to when it actually happened, is when the barn containing 1600 Jewish people burns down. This is what the first act leads up to; the second act is the aftermath. Therefore the whole play centres around it. Also it is the key moment in realising the point of the play: to show how people turn on each other in times of panic. Indeed it is the horror that these old classmates stand by and watch, and in some cases even help the killing of their former friends. Thus I think glossing over or leaving out this element of the play is a mistake, and in this instance it is important to spoil for the sake of writing a decent, fully rounded review.

Having said that, one can still hold back some information in order to maintain some shock or revelation for the audience. I think as long as one refers to the occurence, stating its emotional affect, the point of it and its dramatic merits, then the specifics aren’t necessary. This will intrigue the reader rather than leaving them in the dark completely, yet not ruin it for them.

Overall I think that spoiling is sometimes important to do and necessary in explaining some plays. I tend to take each case as it comes and judge it accordingly. Of course it is always worth remembering that one reason to write reviews in the first place, is for them to be put into archives and explain past productions to future audiences, who will never get to see the real thing first hand. Even video footage cannot sum up the genuine theatre experience. Also bare in mind that if you have to spoil, then the oppurtunity to pre-warn your reader is perfectly acceptable. Then it really is their own choice whether to ‘spoil’ the play for themselves or not.

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