Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Friday, July 07, 2006 ::
Janeites at the Young Vic
It's a curious thing that critics and commentators tend to refer to women in the theatre by their first names and men by their second names. So it would be unusual to read a critic talking about Harold's work, rather than Pinter's, but it's not uncommon to read people referring to Sarah, rather than Kane. The most famous example of this in critical tradition are the Janeites, the fanatical followers of Jane Austen, who refer to their heroine as Jane, rather than Austen. It gives rise to the question: is this patronising or virtuous? Is it that the personalisation is a rather matey intrusiveness, than individualises the author and thereby forbids her entry to the canon of literature (it's Shakespeare, never William)? Or is it that some women remind us of the importance of the personal, the intimate and domestic? Perhaps the literary tradition is too scared of the personal - as in all those male writers who abjure the first name (T. S. Eliot, J. B. Priestley, Lord Byron, e. e. cummings) - and remember how the publisher suggested that Joanne Rowling hide her femininity. Would it be good if Eliot were Tom (or Mary Ann)? Or would it be good if Sarah were always Kane (or Daniels)?
These ruminations on literary politics arise in connection with the Young Vic's press conference, at which they announced that their two new theatres would not be named the Bjornson and the Venables, but the Maria and the Clare. It may be simple pragmatism - their first names are rather more elegant words than the surnames - but there does seem something slightly belittling about this. The other recent newly-named Londoon theatres are not the Noel and the Stephen, but the Noel Coward and the Sondheim.
The new season, on the other hand, looks pretty interesting, though the undoubted high point will be Dennis Kelly's Love and Money, one of the most exciting plays I have ever read. It shows that there is life after Crimp and that Attempts on Her Life is a staging post not the finishing line.