Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Opinion: Are Theatre Critics Too Soft?, Lyn Gardner, The Guardian (UK), May 29, 2013

Lyn Gardner Guardian Newspaper UK


Are theatre critics too soft?

Spectator reviewer Lloyd Evans says his colleagues do theatre a disservice by raving about mediocre shows. Do you agree?

I think it might have been Alan Bennett who once charmingly referred to theatre critics as "giddy chorus girls just waiting to be fucked". Spectator critic Lloyd Evans seems to agree. In his latest column, where he runs the rule over Pastoral at London's Soho theatre and Fallen in Love at the Tower of London, Evans looks to some of the positive national reviews of the same shows and asks of their authors: "Are these people on drugs?"

He goes on to say: "Critics who go into raptures over near-flops risk turning their columns into the sort of perfumed screeds recited at the funerals of Asian dictators."

It's often bloggers who get accused of star inflation, while national critics are perceived as being jaded and hard to please. But it's true there are certainly plenty of four and five star reviews in the mainstream press, and personally I'm guilty as charged. In the past week, I've given five stars to two shows, Not I at the Royal Court and the epic Life and Times at the Norfolk and Norwich festival (although you'd have to go back almost a year before I last got quite so enthusiastic).

Evans may be right in thinking we do a disservice to theatre and audiences when we hyperventilate over the mediocre. There are undeniably masses of three-star reviews, but very few two- and one-star reviews.

Yet are critics more inclined to rave than they once were? Perhaps recession has encouraged kindness, although it's no kindness if people spend their money and are then disappointed. Equally, perhaps the tendency of audiences to rise to their feet and cheer the merely competent is having some kind of effect on reviews. Are reviewers too keen to praise, as Evans suggests – and do you feel critics should be more critical? Tell us what you think.

Click to go to the article at The Guardian Newspaper on-line

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