During Scotland’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Spain tonight, Spain went 2-0 up after 54 minutes. BBC Scotland’s commentator’s response was to state that the 3 points are safe for Spain now!! Within 12 minutes, Scotland had scored twice to make it 2-2.
I commented on this trend of calling a result far too early more than once during last summer’s World Cup – it’s not just in football commentary (where the problem of maintaining a narrative without knowing the nature of the ending has always existed), but more noticeably in news coverage – in this age of 24-hour news channels, live updates, breaking news and so on – where, to fill in time and maintain interest, reporters try to tell us not just where a story is but where it is going and where it will end up. (This was the real nub of the Adam Boulton / Alastair Campbell on-air bust-up during the aftermath of the May 2010 UK General Election.)
It’s a problem for us in the live performance business since our entire artform depends on unfolding a story before an audience, and the success of that is in our ability to play the story as if it is unfolding for the first time each time we do so. That’s always been a difficult trick to pull off, but even more so when the general trend is towards flicking forward to the last chapter before reading the rest of the book. The only difference between tragedy and comedy is the ending, but we live in an age when it’s not uncommon even for football crowds to begin to leave 20 minutes from the end of the match. (Did any Man Utd fans do that in Barcelona in 1999? I wonder.) If our theatre audiences, while we are attempting to maintain dramatic tension through to the end of Act 4, are mentally heading for home halfway through Act 3, then we have a fundamental problem.