Miriam Cosic, Arts Editor for the Oz, writes waspishly today of the handwringing apparently going on over Kristy Edmunds' MIAF:
POOR Melbourne. Sometimes it doesn't know whether it's coming or going.It seems that the "tabloids" (aka the Herald Sun) and the talkbacks have been doing the "call this art?" tango, while Toorak matrons are bewailing the lack of 19th century opera. Cosic bracingly points out that young people pay taxes as well - and she, too, has noticed the packed houses that I've seen at every show I've attended.
The Victorian capital prides itself on its cool quotient: all those funky laneways, the designers' designers, the innovative alternative theatre and contemporary dance.
And yet its idea of what constitutes an arts festival can be positively nanna-ish.
Sigh. Sometimes I wish this parochial angst were not so bloody predictable. It would be nice if the claim that Melbourne is Australia's "cultural capital" - bruited by those busy being appalled and disgusted by said culture - could be allowed to be more than an advertising slogan.
Note: Chris Boyd takes Cosic (and me, for "echoing stupid remarks" about the Herald Sun) to task in the comments for exercising "heresay (sic), at best. Vivid imagination at worst". Far from beating up a non-story, Cosic is clearly responding to Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt's full-frontal attack on Kristy Edmunds' programming of MIAF. Bolt is also, as it happens, a guest on talk back radio, where I expect he continued to make his claim that MIAF is a "crime against the arts" and that the Melbourne Festival is "dead".
Chris also suggests I'm running a "line" on festival audiences, and cites his own observations. Fair enough. We're clearly going on different nights. The shows I've seen, with a single exception (in a small theatre), have had full houses, although of course I can't swear that means they've been complete sell-outs. The canard that nobody is going to MIAF - which was claimed about last year's well-attended festival as well - is directly contradicted by my own experience. Obviously it's partial - I'm not at every performance on every night. But if nobody is going to the festival, who are all these people obscuring my view with standing ovations (two so far, Ngapartji Ngapartji and I La Gaglio)?
Finally, and the only thing I take exception to: Chris implies that I am soft-pedalling my critical responses. "I thought you've been showing distinct signs of turning into one of those critics that like everything! " That is simply not true, as a quick look at recent reviews will show: in fact, I've had reservations about four of the past nine things I've seen (five out of ten, if you count the book review).
Chris and I seem to differ on almost everything we see, and that is fine: one of the things that has been missing in discourse about Melbourne theatre is the ability to civilisedly and intelligently disagree. And TN welcomes dissenting comments. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will be very aware of my taste in theatre, and I make no secret of the fact that I am an advocate for certain kinds of contemporary work that I consider exciting and important. But to imply that I am not calling things as I see them is at best presumptuous. At worst, simply offensive.