Two dead white males respond to Mr Hytner

Sunday 20 May 2007

Quite what Mr Hytner (who didn’t come to our party) expected to achieve with his night of the long butterknives, we don’t know. But if he was expecting the dailies to summarily dump their dead white male reviewers and replace them with one-legged, black, working class lesbians from the north of England he is presumably somewhat disappointed.

Much has been said on the matter but the status quo has been maintained and life goes on in theatreland.

However, it would be marvellous to be a fly on the sandwich at next month’s Critics Circle meeting where – according to Mark Shenton (who didn’t come to our party either) – Mr Hytner is due to to speak.

Incidentally, we do wonder what happens at these meetings. What on earth do they talk about? Does anyone talk to Nicholas de Jongh (who didn’t come to our party, but to be fair had not been invited)?

According to the CC website, its aims are:

to promote the art of criticism, to uphold its integrity in practice, to foster and safeguard members’ professional interests, to provide opportunities to meet, and to support the advancement of the arts.

Probably they spend much of their time concerened that the West End Whingers are busily and successfully demoting the art of criticism, denuding it of all integrity, looking out only for themselves and undermining artistic endeavour wherever they find it.

It’s lucky that our aims are so diametrically opposed as, to be frank, we just wouldn’t have the time to commit to the Critics Circle. Andrew drones on about his job being high-powered, busy and important and Phil’s knitting circle keeps him out of circulation three evenings a week so it’s difficult to see how we would squeeze it in.

Anyway, back to the night of the long butterknives. As we promised we would, we DID think about it all and this is what we came up with:

1. It does expose the ridiculous idea of having critics (one critic per paper, yet!) whose job it is to judge whether something is good or bad when there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. (Ooh, that’s good. Write that down!)

2. To be fair to Mr Hytner, it does underline the appalling lack of diversity among the major critics in the dailies. We laughed out loud when De Jongh played the “gay card” but in the world of the theatre, that could hardly be said to constitute diversity. Where are the black and Asian critics?

3. But then again, where are the black and Asian theatre bloggers? In these modern days where there are no barriers to having a voice if you want one, the blogosphere is presumably reasonably self-selecting. The girls are up for it – City Slicker (who didn’t come to our party but did apologise) and Interval Drinks (who did come to our party; we like her) have made their mark and so have the gays – Paul in London (who did come to our party; we like him) for instance. But while we are reluctant to make assumptions about those we don’t know, it does look as though interest in West End theatre is pretty much “a white thing”.

4. There are interesting ideas raised about the possibly different sensibilities of male and female critics. We could not possibly comment.

5. Otherwise, makes Mr Hytner makes a bit of an ass of himself (as, indeed, he did by not coming to our party). As many have pointed out, he was happy enough with dead white men when they gave him good reviews.

The most interesting thing, though, is “the mystery of the missing article”.

The Evening Standard tends to shovel pretty much all of its material onto its This Is London website. But whatever happened to Louise Jury’s article:”Hytner & Co blast ‘dead white men’ biased against female directors?”

The Whingers had been rather mystified by David Eldridge’s (who didn’t come to our party but did apologise) reference to a threat by de Jongh. Several Internet searches revealed no such thing.

But happily Phil’s habit of raking through his neighbours’ litter bins for juicy tidbits came up trumps and a copy of the offending edition of the ES was recovered. And there it is. In black and white. Nicholas de Jongh saying:

“The idea that age and gender precludes on from judging a play strikes me as hysterical, bigoted, silly and beneath him. He will come to regret it. Greatly.”

Now why didn’t that make it onto the website?

Phil is certain the Pulitzer is his for the taking next year.

Footnote: interesting analysis of the night of the long butterknives on the notional theatre blog.

11 Responses to “Two dead white males respond to Mr Hytner”

  1. Sean Says:

    I think it’s a bit unfair to say that Nick played the gay card…

    I’m gay but don’t mention it in everything I write. Nick always has! I’ve seen him shirtless at the Arcloa with a lovely (LOVELY) young man once. He always has an interestin companion when I’ve seen him. Can I say that?


  2. Shirtless? Are you sure? Always has mentioned that he’s gay? Are you sure?

    Well, you can say anything if it’s true and if you can prove it to be true. But I can’t quite imagine why a gay man would object to it being reported that he was accompanies by a “lovely young man”.

    Anyway, we’re not quite sure what any of this has to do with the price of fish, Sean. By “playing the gay card” we were simply referring to de Jongh’s bid for diversity credibility in the context of this particular row.

    But thanks!

  3. Sean Says:

    He often takes his shirt of when the theatre is particularly hot, seriously. It detracts from the play in small theatres, in a bad way.

  4. Stephen Says:

    Have to say that I’d always assumed the West End Whingers were gay, are you dashing my hopes? You may not play the gay card, but your blog is certainly very gay friendly so.


  5. Well, we DO write a lot about showtunes and wigs and Dames of the British Empire.
    But we would never play the gay card or any card. In fact we keep all of our cards very close indeed to our chests. This is mostly just habit as both Whingers have been known to cheat outrageously at gin rummy. We also like to think that doing so enhances our reputation as metropolitan men of mystery.
    We live in a world of our own really.


  6. Well, as I see it, there are two main alternatives:

    1) Hytner, who has a record of periodically getting column inches by outspoken remarks, said what he said in search of publicity.

    2) Hytner, an intelligent man who, for instance, has recently directed “Rafta, Rafta…” which has received some critical slating for its allegedly throwback vision of sexuality, and that from a gay critic (OK, it was Nicholas de Jongh, but stay with me on this), genuinely believes what he has said and doesn’t notice the inconsistency.

    Which, in your charitable heart of hearts, would you prefer to believe?

    (a national critic, aged 43, Oxbridge but working-class Northern Irish, generally straight though my last girlfriend had gender issues… writes)


  7. Ian –

    “Which, in your charitable heart of hearts, would you prefer to believe?”

    You are being very satirical now you naughty man. We possess neither hearts nor charity and you know it.

  8. Tassos Stevens Says:

    Ian –

    Option 3. After becoming increasingly frustrated with the way in which judgement has been articulated (rather than the judgements themselves) on a lot of productions, Nick Hytner loses his rag and says very much the right thing for possibly the wrong reasons.

    The right thing being that the whole industry, from audience to artistic directors to readers to critics themselves, needs a greater diversity of critics not just in background but also in the range of their theatre-going experience and taste. The blogosphere could provide that but it would need organising so that there was a stamp of independent authority for the casual reader as well as those of us who grow to know and trust particular bloggers.

    The current hoo-ha seems to be because critics misinterpret Hytner’s comments as an attack on criticism and the absolute right (in my view) to slate something if it truly deserves to be slated. I don’t think he’s saying that. Even if there’s scope to misinterpret his comments that way, it’s actually not important compared to the bigger issues.

    And he is absolutely right in pointing out the way various prejudices do slip out occasionally in reviews. Even if unintentional. I could point to many examples of Nightingale, Spencer and (especially) De Jongh which are easily interpreted as misogynist.

    And breadth of taste and experience are crucial. I like Billington for example but I am so sick of often the only reviews in the Guardian – still the best of the broadsheets for theatre imho – coming through his increasingly calcified lens of ‘social naturalism? give it an extra star’. Slightly adapting the Jesuits, I always thought the primary function of a critic is to distinguish what a piece of work is aiming to do on its own terms, then judge it according to whether it meets those aims, then judge it according to whether those aims were worthwhile in the first place. Too often if confronted with work outside of his box, Billington doesn’t know how to say what he sees rather than what he wants to see. Which is not to say he shouldn’t slate the work if he doesn’t like it. But actually tell us what it is.

    I don’t think the current establishment critics need to be forcibly retired. De Jongh aside – pass me the tranquiliser darts, cap’n…. They just need better competition.

    Okay. Breathe. Bit of a rant. Over. Sorry, Whingers. I like your site – really, I do.

    (occasional critic and more often making theatre)


  9. Tassos, I agree with almost everything you say except the bit where you claim that’s what Hytner meant!

  10. Ben Says:

    Just wanted to throw a penny in…. I’m a non-white theatre blogger of sorts, but it don’t make me special….


  11. Ben – I’ve never really understood the phrase “the exception that proves the rule” but I think you may be one 🙂

    And in the context of our pathetic attempt at polemic – no, it doesn’t make you special; but it does make you uncommon. Exceptional even!


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