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White walls. Bright lights. Short sentences. When Does "Stylistic" Become Self-Indulgent?

“Stylistic” is a word used to describe, seemingly, most shows at the moment. But is it necessarily a good thing? I love seeing shows with a unique style but, sometimes, “stylistic” comes across as little more than self-indulgent. I mean, how many shows use the “unique” idea of invasive, bright lighting, and abstract perspectives?

It is rarely the entire show that succumbs to self-indulgence – however, in a lot of stylistic productions, there are a few scenes that are just a bit too much. Maybe the idea was a bit predictable, or repeated one too many times, or perhaps it just wasn't that convincing. The problem is with going for these, in theory, unconventional performance styles is that, if it doesn't work extremely well, it doesn't work at all.

Take, for example, an adaptation of a classic play, or book. I can see why the production team would want to add their own twist to it – but is it always necessary to twist it so completely that the original show is all but lost? People seem almost scared to just commit to putting on a show in its original form. Take one of Shakespeare's plays, for example – if it is performed outside of the Globe, it will probably be in a modern setting. Equally, if a classic novel is translated into a stage production, the subtle, hinted-at ideas present in the book will probably be turned into abstract scenes or staging. Maybe they should have been left as only hinted-at.

“Playing it on the safe side” no longer means “sticking to the original show”. “Safe” means “different”.

But where would it leave us, if we stopped this drive for style? Would we be left without productions like 1984 (which, happily, is returning to the West End this year), Oresteia, People, Places & Things … These productions are essentially, the children of self-indulgence – and yet they are done so well that you cannot help but enjoy the over-the-top abstraction, predictably sudden black-outs and the links (although sometimes tenuous) to modern society.

Is it, then, the case that productions going all-out on style simply have to be done really, really well – or not done at all?

Or is it just that there is a fine line between style and self-indulgence?

Maybe it is neither. Maybe it depends on something as small as what mood you are in: do you want a relaxing, easy evening; or are you in the mood for something with more depth? Are you feeling cynical; or are you happy to ignore the occasional bit of self-indulgence for a show that is, on the whole, enjoyably different?

For me, I think that it is a combination of the three. If I am in a bit of a cynical mood, the line between style and self-indulgence become even finer than usual, and I become more picky about what constitutes “well done”. But perhaps that is just me – so what do you think? Tweet me on @Harri_L_002 to join in the discussion.

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