Never averse to stretching an argument in order to push his own agenda, Mark Ravenhill asserted earlier this week that while TV and cinema are dying in the face of the media, theatre will always live on, due to people's desire to experience live performance.
Last night I went to the Royal Exchange to see A Conversation by Australian David Williamson, one of a trilogy he's written around the format of a Community Conference, the central process of what is known as Transformative Justice - practised in Australia - whereby victims and perpetrators are brought together in dialogue as a way of moving them on respectively from their pain or grief and to face up to what they have done.
This play has moved on to the main stage from the studio, a process which the Royal Exchange, newly committed to new writing, it seems, has apparently taken to its heart. Great, absolutely marvellous. And to my mind this play definitely deserved such treatment. Brilliant. In spite of being harrowing (it deals with a particularly horrific murder) and, by virtue of its format, not very theatrical, it was utterly enthralling and wonderfully acted.
But. But, what about this audience in which Ravenhill places such faith for the continuance of theatre?
As I came up the steps with The Partner, a woman standing at the top waved some tickets at us. 'Free tickets? Would you like some free tickets?' (Her friends had presumably failed to show.) 'No thanks,' said The Partner, 'We've already got comps.' 'Oh, dear,' said the woman, 'so has everyone, it seems, I simply can't give them away!' So the house was having to be papered.
Even so, there weren't all that many people milling around, and one of the two bars was, unusually, closed. And, as happens when it's desperate, whatever they'd paid the audience was allowed to fill up the more expensive seats at stage level. And the majority of that audience was - yet again - over fifty.
And yet look what all those young people, and those who'd stayed at home or weren't prepared to fork out the price of a ticket, were missing: for once the play began, that audience was rapt for every moment of the play's uninterrupted ninety minutes, right to the end.
It's hard in such a situation not to agree with the media moguls that everyone just wants 'entertainment' nowadays, and the easier and more accessible the better. Not that artists, writers and literary and theatrical professionals shouldn't be fighting this, which I guess is the true motive behind Ravenhill's somewhat specious argument.