Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Clash of the Subcultures, Or Andy takes Popcorn to Shakespeare

I've been fairly lucky to have had an exciting week so far. On Sunday me and my partner went to Collectormania, a fun convention in Milton Keynes where we got to look at all sorts of fun merchandise, had our pictures taken with people in awesome cosplay and met a few of our TV/Film heroes (in my case, Dave Prowse, better known as The Man Inside the Darth Vader Suit).

And yesterday (Tuesday) evening I went to Cineworld Harlow to see a repeat of David Tennant playing the title role in Shakespeare's Richard II.

Both experiences were amazing, but I thought I would share a specific facet of my experiences in this post - namely the differences between the people I encountered at both. There's a hell of a lot of debate going on online at the moment with the idea of 'fake geeks' (particularly 'fake geek girls' who as far as I can tell aren't a thing, but that's a debate for another time) but at Collectormania there didn't seem to be any of this going on.

There was a fairly even split of men to women, lots of families (including a brilliant Mum who took her kids to meet 'Darth Vader' because he had scared her as a kid), lots of people dressed up to various degrees (all the way from full-on Boba Fett armour down to a kid with a plastic Harry Potter mask) and the atmosphere was very friendly and very welcoming. It is worth pointing out that this is event was free - as in, anyone could walk in off the street. It was super fun, and really great to see normally slightly stiff Brits give in and declare their love for all things nerdy (or in my partner's case, Iain Glen).

In fact, the only people who didn't look like they enjoyed it were a pinched, worried pair of parents who had obviously bought their kids and lurked by the door intimidated by the 'weirdos'. I'm sure they're perfectly nice people, but they looked the kind of people who wouldn't know fun if it landed in their front room - but the very fact that these two stood out in a room full of about three thousand people gives an idea of how good the rest of the atmosphere was.

I use this to contrast last night.

Cineworld in recent months has begun to screen a variety of different 'niche' items alongside the more traditional blockbusters. While it is probably due to a less profitable business model driving alternative revenues, what this in effect means is that those of us out in the sticks can see high end productions of ballet, opera and theatre, except we don't have to buy exorbitantly expensive tickets months in advance and can eat popcorn. This system worked very well on Halloween, where we saw Benedict Cumberbatch's turn as Frankenstein's Monster in the stage adaptation.

The audience was a fascinating mix of theatre-y people, Frankenstein fans (ie me), more general horror fans and people there for Cumberbatch. The result was a surprisingly diverse crowd who gamely sat through the three hour production to it's conclusion and had that vibe at the end that we had experienced something wonderful together. 

Richard II was different. As we collected our tickets and lined up with our popcorn, we noticed that we were the youngest people in the audience by a significant margin. There were a few others who had come along with parents and grandparents, but ultimately I think we were the only people to come on our own accord from that age bracket. The second is that we were the only people to have paid a visit to the concession stand. I had no idea if we had committed some kind of faux pas by being popcorn at the cinema, but several pointed glances suggested we had. Less forgivable was the fact that I kept getting glances from the woman in front as I talked with my partner about the play itself, and history surrounding the story. I have no idea what this woman's problem was - I am fairly sure I didn't drop any 'spoilers' for a play that has a handy synopsis in the program. However, this would have faded into distant memory if it weren't for who we encountered next.

Going in, we settled ourselves down and waited for it to start. And then the people either side of us started talking. Now, before the play, there were a few adverts, as well as interviews with some of the cast and historian Helen Castor. All the while this was going on, the people beside me talked about how they really didn't rate David Tennant as an actor and weren't into Shakespeare. One of them said the language was too hard for them to follow which made me wonder why the hell they were there. On the other side, next to my partner, a woman pointed out where she had sat EVERY TIME they showed the stalls at the theatre, and filled the rest of the time explaining how it wasn't the same as seeing it live. Oh, and she owned all of the things they advertised and they were all wonderful.

Fortunately, both groups shut up shortly after the play started, but having heard complaints for years that cinemas weren't worth going to any more, and going anyway and having a great time, this was one of the worst experiences I have ever had in one. While the play was excellent, the endless talking beforehand and in the interval detracted from the experience. If I hadn't seen Frankenstein a few weeks ago, this would have put me off going to see plays at the cinema in the future entirely. 

The final straw was when we came out to a lot of people saying how good it was, while at the same time saying they hadn't understood any of it - which is a frankly fucking bizarre tendency of middle class people to be utterly dismissive of things they have paid money for and purport to enjoy. And they were still giving us looks as if to suggest that we shouldn't have been there.

If it sounds like I am ranting it's because I am, but the moral of the story is this: if you don't think that other people in a minority group and being looked down upon for being a 'fake geek' (in this case a 'fake Shakespeare appreciator') is a problem, it is. I was on the receiving end last night and it isn't nice. 

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