I don't think Robin Usher can help it. Bubbling with enthusiasm at the present domination of Melbourne stages with what he calls "traditional" fare - Phantom of the Opera and the RSC in particular - Usher bares his teeth at the Melbourne Festival, gnawing at his favourite bone, MIAF director Kristy Edmunds. As Usher says:
No approach to festival programming is set in stone and although the festival's director, Kristy Edmunds, concentrated on more cutting-edge works in her first two programs, she has included more mainstream artists this year. Yet she seems to have little interest in either traditional theatre or classical music. Her argument is that she does not want to duplicate what's on offer during the rest of the year.
But the riches available in the past week demonstrate the benefits of grouping together acts with a common base in the Western tradition. The key is the visit by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which will continue presenting Chekhov's The Seagull and Sir Ian McKellen's definitive performance in King Lear until Sunday.
Well, we all know my feelings on the RSC, which are very mixed. Myself, I love "straight" theatre staged with skill and passion, which is what the RSC - and, yes, the MTC - does at its best. I even have a rather big soft spot for the Western tradition, seeing as it is mine own, and if Usher and I went head to head in a quiz on Western theatre, I'm willing to bet I'd win comfortably.
Usher's plea for more of the "Western tradition" in the festival is a little disingenuous, to say the least, considering this year's MIAF program includes the greatest Shakespearean interpreter of the past century, Peter Brook, as well as productions of Titus Andronicus, Medea and a theatre work that apparently draws from Hamlet. Not to mention one of the canon-defining figures of western dance, Merce Cunningham.
No, it's not the canon that Usher wants. It's the canon in a straight-jacket, dusted off and placed behind glass in a museum of artefacts, where it may be purchased as decoration and status-symbol: not the living, real thing. It's the artistic equivalent of John Howard harking back to the Menzies era.
After all, those great canonical artists were canon-breakers in their time, before the cultural machine did its work: this is what Edmunds remembers and fosters, and what Usher seems to forget. On present form, he would have been booing at the premiere of Madame Butterfly, damning Hedda Gabler as raw sewage and signing petitions to ban Ulysses.
And he wants this relaxed and comfortable plushness all year round. Usher's entitled to his preferences but, as he also points out, these things can be seen on Melbourne stages throughout the year. How about those of us - also a considerable audience - who want to see something different?