Many thanks to Would-Be Whinger M/N for drawing our attention to AA Gill’s article in today’s Sunday Times which lays into theatre critics accusing them of being dull, witless and irrelevant to real theatre-goers.
The biggest surprise of the entire experience was finding out that M/N buys a newspaper but it turns out he is forced to kill time at the weekends as he only has access to Facebook at work. Anyway…
Gill’s thesis seems to be that the first duty of a theatre critic is to write entertainingly…
Tynan wrote: “Critics are consumers of one art, drama, and producers of another, criticism. What counts is not their opinion, but the art with which it is expressed.
…and that the second is to be able to recognise new talent when they see it and that the current bunch aren’t up to it.
As far as the Whingers are concerned this is where his argument falls apart at the seams, backed up as it is with plaudits for the critics of yesteryear perceptive enough to spot the brilliance of new writers Samuel Beckett, John Osborne and Harold Pinter. Actually, based on our recent experiences of these writers, we see this more of an indictment than anything else.
As usual with AA Gill, it all makes for delicious reading (he is, after all, himself an exponent of the form of criticism which values the critic’s entertainment value above his topic) and no doubt Mr Eldridge will be especially gratified at the pop at his personal Moriarty Quentin Letts:
“Sweet, clever Connie [Fisher, as Maria] knocked ’em flying. Viewers of Britain, you chose well. She’s as natural and unsugared and wholesome as one of those pots of vegan yoghurt. Just listening to her makes you feel healthy.” Quentin Letts, Daily Mail.
Can you imagine Kenneth Tynan or Bernard Levin writing this? Or George Bernard Shaw?
Gill posits that:
The critics’ experience rarely seems to coincide with the lives of those sitting with them in the dark. Their dry litany is combined with a Uriah Heepish sycophancy for actors, directors and producers, an awkward, unctuous sucking-up. It’s not that they’re corrupt, but, as Hilaire Belloc said, there’s no need when you see what they’ll do unbribed. Critics are culture’s traffic wardens.
He argues that:
The incremental improvement in the quality and sophistication and enjoyment of eating, cooking and buying food has coincided with the rise of good, angry, witty, opinionated writing.
Mmm. Well maybe. Or maybe the art form attracts the critics it deserves.
Just for good measure he asks an anonymous producer “how important the critics are to his (not Sonia then. Bill?) business”:
“Ten years ago, very. Some could make a show or seriously cripple it. Now, not much. We still get the quotes for the posters, but it’s really only a habit. There certainly isn’t any one critic that theatregoers or people in the business have to read. There’s nobody like Frank Rich was on Broadway, or Tynan or Levin here. I can’t think of a single one whose reports would make someone go to the theatre for the first time. It’s sad, really. They’re sad, really.”
Anyway, it has given the Whingers a marvellous idea. They are going to stop reviewing shows and start reviewing reviews instead and then they can continue to amuse themselves without the inconvenience of having to go to the theatre.