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On Criticism & Critics

What Directors Expect of Critics , Theatre of Wales , December 19, 2018
On Criticism & Critics by What Directors Expect of Critics Many a meeting between dramatist and director has been recorded. At one a great director said “oh f*** the critics, they don't matter.” “This is bravado”, wrote the playwright, “of course they matter.” That was Peter Gill and Joe Orton as recorded in the “Diaries” of 6th June 1967.

The views of directors on critics are many and colourful. Reviews exasperate. David Hare, also a regular director, wrote on New Year's Day a lively “My Ideal Theatre” with a view "those critics who cannot construct a halfway readable sentence in their native language will not be invited to review.” The views of directors are frequent, but the expectations less so. But they can be found with a bit of searching.

Every director is different and every director's view of the critical coterie is their own.

From 6 men of England:

Adrian Noble: “They should be able to set up an intellectual framework of the theatre and put every piece of the theatre in a historical context. We, theatre practitioners, expect from the critics consistency of judgement and taste. We expect objectivity and an intellectual grasp of subject. We expect research and an intellectually constructive analysis of what we've done. Perhaps we expect too much...”

Peter Hall: “I'm not hostile to critics. There are many creative critics and there are many critical creators. There is an inevitable pressure between the critics and the person who works creatively. There has to be. But the dividing line is not as great as we all like to think.”

David Edgar: “Broadly speaking, they are representatives of the perfect audience, they are entertainers, they are journalists, they are there to describe an event. The critics worth reading are the ones who exploit their greatest asset, which is that they go and see a lot of theatre. As a reader, I find it very useful and interesting to read people who write comparatively. That is really valuable. With regard to how a particular individual play should be reviewed, it's good to feel that a critic is able to place a piece of work in the context of the work of that writer, director, or actor. It is exciting when you read somebody who's understood the progression in a writer's work. “

David Farr: “There are two distinct forms of theatre criticism. One is a simple guide to what you should see. The other one is a more serious form- it's a communication between the artists and the critics, which hopefully leads to some idea of where theatre should be going. In a time when theatre is under pressure, criticism can help to salvage it as a relevant art form.”

Jonathan Kent: “Good criticism should convey to the reader an impression of what it was like to be there on that particular night. The better the criticism- the more vivid the experience the reader has. The main ability a critic should have is to convey the unique excitement of going to the theatre.”

Howard Davies: “At its best criticism should be a way of placing a play, a writer, a performance, an actor's vision, or a director's vision in a context.”

Michael Bogdanov homed in on a single word that he valued. That was insight.

From women who have directed great theatre in Wales:

Kate Wasserberg: “Terry Hands once said to me 'Your job as a director is to pay attention and to respond to what you see. Not what you hoped to see, or expected to see, but what you actually see in front of you in that moment.'

“I think that's great advice for directors and critics alike, and all that we reasonably can ask of those coming to watch and report on our work. Whether they like my show or not, to feel a critic has truly “seen” my work is very valuable to me."

Rachel O'Riordan: "As an artistic director of a building, critics are important. What we expect of them is to be able to judge each piece of work on merit, in context and without bias. Great theatre critics, like Lyn Gardner, have the capacity to engage with the work on stage in a way that is brilliantly well-informed but utterly neutral. The really important thing to remember is that critics are writing for audiences; so they are an interpreter of the work they see for them- not for you. As a director, it can be easy to forget that."

Erica Eirian: “I expect to hear different critical voices representative of modern Wales responding to our rich and diverse cultural landscape with curiosity, impartiality and fearlessness, eager for innovation but respectful of tradition.

“I expect critics to come to our work with open minds and a discerning eye and to respond to our work with constructive, insightful judgements rooted in knowledge and experience expressed with lucidity in reviews which give aesthetic pleasure to the reader.

“The critic’s responsibility is to the audience, not to the artist. As a director I expect more than a free marketing tool and more than just a personal opinion. I expect well written, informed, considered and honest reviews which place our work in a context and provoke thought and debate around our work. Only if we have a robust critical culture can we expect a robust theatre culture.”

Sources: England- Kalina Stefanova “Who Keeps the Score on the London Stages?”, Wales- direct communication.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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