Stage sruck

Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 00:00

Keep it in the best possible taste, urges PETER CRAWLEY

THERE ARE two theories about broccoli. The first is that you have no say in the matter: your palate was formed in the womb and your preference for certain flavours was influenced by whatever your mother ate. If she liked spicy foods, chances are you do too. If she ate broccoli, you’re probably okay with the stuff.

The second theory, without oversimplifying the scientific data, is: EAT YOUR DAMN BROCCOLI! That is, shovel enough of that weirdly-textured, sinisterly-shaped vegetable down your gullet and eventually you will learn to appreciate it. This, broadly speaking, is what we mean by an acquired taste.

You could say the same about different styles of theatre. From the conservative to the adventurous, there’s no accounting for taste.

That might explain the mixture of whooping endorsement and bilious rejection that met actor Aaron Monaghan’s comments in The Irish Times a few weeks ago, when he said he was tired of theatre made for “a very particular, young, hip audience” in which everyone “is playing a version of themselves”.

Monaghan wasn’t actually giving out about what was variously described as “contemporary theatre”, “experimental theatre” and, at one bold moment, “experimental avant garde aesthetics”, nor did he name names. But the reaction onlinefrom theatre practitioners, expressed in concentric circles of Facebook posts, suggested that everyone knew what and whom he was talking about.

Some of the responses were considered. Others joyous. Some were angry. Others esoteric. Some were just hurt.

And then the discussion turned to sandwiches.

When somebody borrowed Roy Keane’s infamous dismissive description, in 2000, of complacent Man United fans as “the prawn sandwich brigade” to describe the audience for experimental theatre, the discussion suddenly had a term that nobody needed to explain. “I like prawn sandwiches,” wrote one person. “I also like some ham and cheese.”

Nobody likes to think they have a narrow appetite, undiscriminating taste-buds, or, worse still, bad taste. Monaghan’s real point was that people should be able to express their opinions without fear of censure.

The truth, though, is that tastes actually do change. One fascinating study of 19th-century melodrama shows the values audiences appreciated in the 1820s (God puts everything right) had flipped radically by the 1850s (bourgeois materialists put everything right), and anyone who follows music, art history, literature, comedy, film or fashion knows taste is shaped by dubious experiments and gradual uptake. Some things flourish and some things perish.

So long as nobody is shoving it down your throat, it’s a simple invitation: try this. You might like it.

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