Page 10, 3rd August 2001

3rd August 2001
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Page 10, 3rd August 2001 — Stinging stinkeroos and the gentle art of criticism
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Stinging stinkeroos and the gentle art of criticism

Media Matter Nick Thomas

Bad reviews are always so much more fun to read — and to write — than good ones, but in an ideal world they would never appear. If a book, play, or film is truly awful, it should be unworthy of a paper's attention, and be ignored, but sometimes the temptation is irresistible. More than once our literary editor, Mr Thompson, has got us all into trouble by insisting that I let myself go on the subject of some miserable tome that should have been allowed to biodegrade in obscurity; while often, on my own initiative, I have cried havoc and let slip the dogs of satire against TV programmes that disgraced the name of John Logie Baird, just to use up the backlog of one-liners.

There are exceptions, of course. I do not repent of the treatment I gave to Gormenghast, or Vanity Fair; because the publicity offices responsible for these follies were asking for it, literally, with free tapes and glossy press packs galore. Besides, so heavily were these products trailed that your correspondent had a duty to warn his readers not to waste their time watching them. Similarly, when a new movie is hyped into orbit by a studio, its producers can hardly complain when the critics respond with honest evaluations heavily seasoned with caustic wit. And most new blockbusters are pretty bad. The great and good Mark Steyn of The Spectator, I'm sure, doesn't go looking for rotten films so that he can be funny at their expense. The reason his column is normally such a table-thumping joy to read is that in any given week there is unlikely to be a release deserving of his critical praise.

Theatre is different, at least in this country. In NewYork the stinging stinkeroo is something of a tradition, and scanning the papers the morning after opening a show on, off, or even off-off Broadway is not for the faint-hearted. But London critics, as a rule, are a responsible and fairminded bunch who do not seek to elevate themselves above the status of the work they are paid to observe, and normally avoid the cheap jibe, preferring to give credit where they can. Indeed there is not one of this exemplary body of humanity whom I would hesitate to embrace and give the name of Friend. This generous testimonial to the virtues of our theatrical press is, of course, in no way prompted by the fact that I have a new play opening in London at the end of the month, and already have the jitters about its reception. During the summer season the capital's fringe theatres attract more attention than through the rest of the year, and so the chances of my effort getting some column inches are scarily high. (By the way, if you're planning to drop into the Edinburgh Fringe, I can recommend Teacher!, the new musical by Kieron Quirke, at St Augustine's from Monday.) But when a critic offers his own work for criticism, he has built around himself a glass house, and his first impulse is to start chucking stones from within. I shudder at the thought of how 1 might review this show, were I inclined to be hostile. Political point-scoring ... misogyny ... cheap gags ... straining for significance .• . juvenile flippancy ... Oh dear, oh dear.

Still, the cast seem to like it, and having seen them in action at the first rehearsal not even I can dream up any bombshells of lines with which to demolish them, so their reputations — except by association — should emerge from the run intact. Meanwhile if you find me, over the coming weeks, turning all cuddly and charitable in my appraisal of some worthless bit of pap you've seen on the box, you'll know why.

Dancing Bears by Nick Thomas will be running at the Union Theatre, Southwark, London Ed, from August 28 to September 15.




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