That’s the noise I make when I’m asked for feedback on a scratch performance.
It’s kinda one of the unspoken rules of this criticism. Artists want your feedback, either face-to-face or on little comment cards, but write a review – even a silly online one – and suddenly you’ve created this little Sliding Doors moment for that show. Actually, no, it’s not a Sliding Doors moment; it’s a case of one train leaving the station and one just sitting there, forever, idle and unwieldy; even the old copies of Metro refusing to age. You’ve frozen it, preserved it in some kind of cryogenic chemical from which it will never emerge. A moment of its making will live forever, against which it will always be measured. Good or bad, that feels like an unnecessary thing to do to a piece of art.
I usually try not to mention scratch work that I see. In any kind of permanent, public way anyhow. The Suitcase Prize yesterday was one thing – those guys had entered a competition with their unfinished work – but going on record about a small audience sharing feels a bit… dishonourable. Unless, of course, I have loved literally every single thing about a piece and desperately want to find a way for the artists to keep going, keep making, don’t give up. So much of these early ideas find a rehearsal room for a few days and then never get any further than that. But while I believe that at least 50% of finished shows should never have been made in the first place, I don’t think audiences – or critics – are always the best judge of which 50% should be aborted.
Today, I spoke to Jamal Harewood after the sharing of his Word work-in-progress. I am a fan of Jamal Harewood. I am, like, a capital letters level FAN of Jamal Harewood. I think his earlier piece, The Privileged, is one of the most important pieces of performance ever made, and this new one is shaping up to be even more discomforting. Crucially discomforting. But when I was asking Jamal about his plans for the work, and about the way the success of The Privileged has affected his making process this time around, he said something unexpected. He said that he’s not giving himself any deadlines. He’s not working towards a particular booking, or venue run. He’s going to continue working on the show, and sharing it at different stages of development, but he won’t commit to some kind of artificial premiere, no big press night. In an industry whose funding systems are so overwhelmingly based on outcomes, it’s a refreshing attitude.
So, this afternoon, I saw a version of Word that sits at a particular, singular point on the show’s timeline. Later, I might be lucky enough to see another version, at another point on the timeline. And in the meantime, Jamal can develop this show – this difficult, uncompromising show – at a pace that gives him, and his process, the space required.