Flora Gosling’s wishlist for theatres in 2021.
I don’t often ask myself: “What kind of theatre do I want to see?”. Usually, I trust the theatre-makers to know what stories need to be told, and after 2020 I’d settle for watching anything on a real-life stage. But, now as I think of it, there are some stories and genres that I would particularly like to be told: some because they’re relevant; some because they’re overdue; some because they would scratch an itch. Then there are the plays and musicals I always long for no matter the season, or the year. So, for British theatre in 2021, this is my wish list:
Stories about old age and care homes.
If it wasn’t obvious before, Covid-19 has shed a light on how poorly we treat the elderly in this country. It’s an issue we often deem unimportant when there are seemingly more urgent matters at stake; we forget we may find ourselves in a home like that one day, with no means of improving our situation. I want to hear from the elderly people who have been affected, not just by coronavirus, but by a system that doesn’t do enough as it is. I would love to see theatre companies reflect on that in 2021, and deliver nonfiction shows with purpose and drive. Documentary and verbatim theatre sometimes run the risk of spreading too thin, telling too many stories in a too-familiar way. The ones that work best are the ones with bite and communicate in creative ways - like SharkLegs’ Fulfilment from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, which used puppetry and character-building to comment on Amazon.
Gender and self-discovery.
A narrative dying to be told is that of transition in the time of Covid-19. A story about a character coming to terms with their gender identity in lockdown, then having to shift from their secluded existence back into a world which is gendered and hostile, has an easy three-act structure ready and waiting. Fictional or biographical, a story of this nature has the potential to softly introduce cisgendered people to the challenges trans people face every day from a place that is familiar and relatable to all audiences – lockdown Britain. Hell, throw a few songs in there and it could be a musical.
Anti-Racism and Work by Black Artists.
The riots and the resurgence of the BLM movement in 2020 has ignited a much-overdue conversation about police brutality and the responsibility of everyone (especially white people) to be not only non-racist but anti-racist. Far be it from me to say what form the theatrical response to all of this should be, the only thing I ask is we abstain from putting on well-meaning but misguided ensemble pieces with largely white casts. I implore companies and theatres to give them the platform they deserve, even when the hashtag is no longer trending.
Immersive theatre about connection.
I think what nearly all of us are struggling with since the pandemic began is a sense of being touch-starved. Physical, up-close-and-personal theatre has always been an acquired taste. Even shows which are built around creating a safe space for honesty and interaction (eg Cheryl Martin’s Alaska) are often well out of audiences’ comfort zones. Even so, there is so much to be said about what Covid-19 has meant for human interaction, paving the way for possibilities to birth some incredible immersive and physical work. If there is a time in 2021 where such a show is possible, perhaps people will be a little braver. Take the plunge and attend a show that might involve speaking, touching, moving in ways that we usually don’t as an audience. That last one goes for a broader wish for theatre: that we’re a little more inquisitive as an audience, and that theatre companies respond to that. The day before Glasgow went into tier four earlier this month, I went to the Gallery of Modern Art, and overheard one of the security officers say that there were more visitors that day than there had been in the last four weeks. When our ability to enjoy culture, arts, and entertainment is taken away from us, we start to appreciate it more. You may say that audiences will more-likely want to see something classic and familiar, and I’m sure that’s true. (I for one will be the first through the door if Chicago comes to Glasgow as planned.) But if we can take what we've learned about valuing art and entertainment while we can, there has never been a better year for audiences to take risks.