Review: Cuttings at the Hope Theatre

Recognition. Remorse. Resolution. The three r’s provide a framework for celebrities and brands, or rather their agents, to apologise to the public. Such strategies come in handy, particularly when live broadcast and social media have created more opportunities than ever for the rich and famous to say the wrong thing. Cuttings explores the fall-out, and the messy business of saying sorry.

Natasha Patel in Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Natasha Patel in Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Cuttings is a brilliant and perceptive comment on public relations in the 21st Century. When YouTuber-turned-actor Arthur Moses delivers a foul-mouthed acceptance speech at the Olivier Awards, his publicists scramble to repair the damage. Featuring writing as sharp as its title, superb performances in three distinct roles, and a surprisingly nuanced take on industry inequality, Cuttings is a delight.

Joan Potter and Maisie Preston in Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Joan Potter and Maisie Preston in Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

The three publicists are well-drawn personalities, with differing opinions on how to rehabilitate their client’s image. Danica (Maisie Preston) is the sweet but rather over-privileged junior straight from gap year travels, while Gracelyn (Joan Potter) is the no-nonsense industry veteran, appropriately experienced in boxing and showbusiness. Ruchi (Natasha Patel) is perhaps the moral heart of the story, whose desire to help Arthur is motivated by more than just contractual obligation.

As the show progresses, we learn that doing the right thing is not always best when you’re trying to win a publicity war. Cuttings is a fine comedy, with dialogue full of smart quips and put-downs, but there is great depth and subtlety too. The strength of Ollie George Clark’s writing is in the characters, all of whom have own reasons for acting the way they do, from personal morals to business prestige, and are explored in a way that is both entertaining and revealing.

Maisie Preston in Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

Maisie Preston in Cuttings. Photo courtesy of Cam Harle (2019).

From a production standpoint the show boasts slick direction from Rob Ellis and a wonderfully detailed set from Caitlin Abbott. A busy office is brought to life with illegible Post-It notes and a cupboard overflowing with promotional material. I loved all the little details, like the wall-mounted punching bag, and the framed film posters which are naturally replaced depending on which client should walk through the door.

Cuttings is a hilarious and timely send-up of celebrity faux-pas and the changing nature of publicity in the digital age. The play is full of clever observations about how the internet has changed the way people interact with their fans, but also serves as a reminder that, while opinion may have become democratised, the industry is a long way from being equal. Cuttings deserves publicity, and all the good kind.

Cuttings is showing at the Hope Theatre until June 22.

Book tickets on the website.

The Show Must Not Go On: Why the Oscars need a Rethink

The Oscars are a mess. From criticism of a lack of diversity to declining viewership, Hollywood’s biggest night has had a troubled few years. Judging by the events leading up to this year’s ceremony, the 91st Oscars are mired in controversy and the Academy does not seem to know what to do. Perhaps it is time to call the whole thing off, or cut it short, or something, anything, to keep the show relevant, interesting, and worthwhile.

Every year since 1927 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have presented awards to filmmakers for their talent and expertise in the field, from directors, actors, writers, and production staff. The event is a highly publicised affair, with all the biggest stars showing up in nice dresses and tuxedoes to compliment and resent one another, while they applaud their contemporaries in the collection of gold statues.

A diverse selection of Oscar nominees, winners, and stars. Photo courtesy of Associated Press

A diverse selection of Oscar nominees, winners, and stars. Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Despite a primetime slot, massive media coverage, and more celebrities than a Trump attack ad, viewing figures for the Award show have been on the decline. The number of people watching has nearly halved in twenty years, falling from 46 million in 2000 to 26 million in 2018.

Some have blamed the low numbers on recent scandals over diversity and sexual misconduct, highlighted by online campaigns such as #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo. Others point to the redundancy of the ceremony, as people can easily watch speeches on YouTube rather than sit through hours of inane red-carpet footage, bad jokes, and niche awards no-one really cares about. Whatever is at fault, few could argue that the response from the Academy has been less than assured.

Let’s go through the announcements, then the rather unceremonious retractions. Last Summer the Academy declared it would add an award for achievement by popular film. The decision was immediately met with criticism, with some arguing it devalued the other awards. Others queried over what constitutes a ‘popular film’ and, if such films were deemed award-worthy, why not nominate them in the usual category? Following the backlash, the award was dropped barely a month later.

Kevin Hart. Photo courtesy of AFP.

Kevin Hart. Photo courtesy of AFP.

Then there was the question over who should host. Given ongoing industry scandals, the Oscars have tried to play it safe in recent years and are particularly keen to avoid another Seth MacFarlane ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ routine. So, in December, they announced cuddly comic Kevin Hart. Family-friendly, bankable, and Black, Kevin was an ideal choice for an Award show desperate to avoid controversy. The only problem? Users of social media, the means by which all public figures must now live and die, revealed homophobic tweets on Kevin’s Twitter. After he refused to apologise, Kevin quit. With little time to spare, the Oscars have decided that the awards will have no host.

Guillermo Del Toro winning the Oscar for Best Director for Shape of Water (2018). Photo courtesy of Kevin Winter (Getty Images).

Guillermo Del Toro winning the Oscar for Best Director for Shape of Water (2018). Photo courtesy of Kevin Winter (Getty Images).

Finally, the Oscars have tried to retain audience numbers by cutting running time. In the past, organisers have played off winners when they feel their acceptance speeches go on for too long – an indignity that is often more awkward than necessary. In February, several weeks before the ceremony, the Academy announced it would cut presentations for four categories, including editing and cinematography. After complaints from industry figures such as Guillermo Del Toro, the decision was, again, hastily reversed.

All of this back-and-forth indicates an organisation that has no clue about what it is doing, nor about how to save its ailing brand. I am sceptical about the value of awards anyway, as I don’t believe art is or should be a competitive enterprise. Still, until the Socialist utopia is achieved, something ought to be done about a show that, for now at least, still conveys value, prestige, and opportunity. Here are three things the Academy could do:

Take it off the Television

The Oscars ceremony is expensive. With a continual slump in viewing figures, justifying the three-hour broadcast becomes more difficult. Significant costs could therefore be made by taking the ceremony off the television, and instead offering it as a live-stream on social media. Twitter is usually the best place to be during the awards anyway, with clips being uploaded directly and users responding in real-time, cracking jokes, creating memes, and usually complaining that so-and-so was snubbed.

Drop the Routines

Billy Crystal as er, Sammy Davis Jr. Photo courtesy of CBS.

Billy Crystal as er, Sammy Davis Jr. Photo courtesy of CBS.

The Oscars have had some truly awful routines over the years. Recent examples include the aforementioned Boob song, Ellen’s bafflingly pointless pizza order, James Franco’s dress, Billy Crystal’s weird blackface, and Jimmy Kimmel inviting in tourists for some reason. Save time, dignity, and interest by getting rid of the routines altogether.

Let the Artists Speak

People want to know who won, and what they said. Other than mishaps like the infamous Moonlight announcement, the speeches are what tend to make headlines – particularly if the artist uses their platform for political and social grandstanding, or the kind of heartfelt tribute that inspires tears in Hollywood and at home. While it is true that some spend a little too long on the podium thanking everyone and their cat, many others are brutally cut short. Without the limitations of television broadcast, you don’t need to play people off. Let artists go on for as long as they want.

Be more Inclusive

The Oscars have got into trouble again this year for a lack of representation. This time, the trending hashtag might be #OscarsSoMale as there are zero women nominated under the Best Film or Best Director categories. Beyond implementing inclusive practices (perish the thought), the Oscars should at least do their homework. If there are no women or people of colour on your list, then maybe it’s time to ask questions of yourself, the Academy, and the films you have watched. Great work is being created all the time, and you have no excuse not to pay attention.  

These are just a few ideas, but I think they would go quite a way to making the Oscars a more engaging night for people. The Academy should embrace new media, cut down on the unnecessary elements, and keep the controversy to the people onstage – rather than those running the show.