It was the playwright Anthony Shaffer who commented that people kept the secret of his hit play Sleuth on its first run in the 1970s. It went against established thinking, with the veteran impresario Binkie Beaumont telling him that the “dreadful trick” – there are only two characters in the piece, and one of them effects a disguise to fool the other – would become a talking point.
Back then the notion of the spoiler could be made material by mischievous critics or the clever so-and-so of one’s acquaintance who relished in communicating knowledge that was best left unsaid.
In Shaffer’s case, audiences generally kept shtum about Sleuth. And it allowed the play to flourish into and beyond a film adaptation and through several revivals.
Those days, sadly, are long past. In 2019 it’s nigh on impossible not to stumble across key plot points for modern drama especially given the evils of social media. It’s no longer about avoiding garrulous friends; instead it’s more about adopting something akin to a bunker mentality.
Yes, folks, I’m talking about Line of Duty. I’ve only seen episode one of the latest batch. The rest are recorded on my tellybox. But I’m struggling to find the time to play catch-up and, as a result, I find myself skipping through Facebook and Twitter in a desperate attempt to avoid any and all references.
I suspect it’s all a waste of time because somehow, somewhere, somebody is conspiring to ensure that my viewing pleasure is kyboshed.
This, then, is the 21st century world of televisual entertainment. And not just TV. Movies get the same treatment. There’s always someone willing to spoil the fun. Back in the day there was an unspoken law – more an accepted rule, really – that critics and reviewers shouldn’t (and wouldn’t) reveal pivotal moments.
All that has gone now, with social media giving anyone a voice and, by association, the opportunity to discuss whatever they’ve seen or read. So I’m pretty much resigned to finding out what has transpired in Line of Duty. Of course it won’t be the end of the world if I’m assaulted by spoilers. Yet there’s an overwhelming sense that we’re in new territory, and that the impact of classy, intelligent entertainment is genuinely at risk from people who can’t keep their traps shut.
It’s not unreasonable to want one’s entertainment unsullied by unnecessary detail. A bit of mystery doesn’t go amiss.
So forgive me if I ignore your passionate worship of Line of Duty. Please don’t bother me with it.
And don’t get me started on Game of Thrones…