I rarely enjoy avant garde theatre, but it is worth going occasionally to remind oneself why it doesn’t deserve any more public subsidy. Leaving the Royal Court Theatre’s attic space last weekend after watching Lucky Dog, I felt that public funds could be profitably diverted into sealing playwrights inside a small container until Godot turned up.
Lucky Dog, by Leo Butler, is a play so tedious that I kept myself amused only by running a private sweepstake on which of my buttocks would fall asleep first. But what really bothered me was the characters’ arbitrary Northern accents.
Why do fringe playwrights and directors insist on a Northern twang? Do they think it lends their characters an earthy quality? Do actors need to put on a voice to get into character?
I think it is because playwrights think Received Pronunciation is uncool. They see Northern accents as the antidote to the bourgeois, everyday feel of RP, without the need to explore anything as vulgar as Estuary English. It is a lazy way of creating a person who is remote yet familiar, moral but unpredictable, and dramatically encumbered by the decline of post-industrial Britain.
I also think it is a cheap and patronising way of disguising inadequate characterisation. By all means tell your actors to match their accents to their location, but don’t think that you can import a socio-political agenda just by having them say “anyroad” for “anyway”.
(orginally posted June 1, 2004)