Don’t panic; I’m close to hitting the wall in my current run of blogorrhoea. What did it for me was clicking through from a link in Lyn Gardner’s take on whether critics should have friends who are theatre makers (no, apparently), which was helpfully provided by fellow blogger Natasha Trippney of Interval Drinks.
This in turn took me to Fin Kennedy’s blog back in December and January [scroll down to the 14th] last year, which was cited by Lyn as an example of what can happen when poacher turns gamekeeper. As Fin noted in the comments section under Lyn’s original article, that’s not strictly what happened. But, It still makes for pretty depressing reading.
Not having had enough of arguments, and feeling somewhat chastened by the description of my blog as “a great resource for the London theater scene” on The Shalimar’s blog (not the intention, I know - but no one wants to feel parochial, and I really am far more guilty of it than most), I went on to have a look at the rumpus recently being waged over at George Hunka’s website concerning his committing the first cardinal sin of criticism - writing up after leaving at the interval. I was alerted to this by Australia’s Alison Croggan’s own excellent response (oh yes, I was really doing the rounds today). Actually, George's position is something of a grey area, and one which (to the best of my knowledge) does not exist in Britain - he was on a free ticket (to a preview performance) and had been invited to write-up, but as a "blogger" rather than as an "actual critic".
In his defence, Hunka can be found musing on: “useless dichotomies -- critic/playwright, amateur/professional -- which only serve to Balkanize the practice of theatre production, reporting and criticism in the United States. Preserving these dichotomies only serves to more firmly entrench the status quo in which these dichotomies encourage antagonism and separation.” This reminds me a lot of what I wrote about at no small length yesterday.
Anyway - yes: he makes a full admission that he left at the interval. No: I’m not sure that’s enough. Nor am I sure that I’m not sure. Obviously it’s terrible manners. But then so is boring someone half to sleep. Obviously a critic can’t report accurately on a play if they haven’t seen it all, and that is their job. By the same token, a blogger is probably well within their rights to leave at the interval if they really can’t face the second half. It is - as Ian Shuttleworth once remarked when someone threw a chair at my head - practical criticism in action. I’ve certainly felt no compunction about not returning for the second halves of West End shows that I wasn’t reviewing.
Hunka in turn points to theatre director Isaac Butler’s attack on US dramaturgy, which he describes as an “annual churlish slog” - this seems a little harsh given that Butler appears to have directed two of Hunka’s plays. Or perhaps “churlish” is a term of approbation in New York. That, or Butler didn’t do a very good job with the plays. Either way, in many respects Butler’s post seems to echo quite a lot of what gets said over here when writers are complaining about the culture of dramaturgy. What is heartening however, is Christopher Shinn’s comments on the matter. Specifically his praise for:
“other societies, which have much healthier new-writing structures in place -- where young playwrights are getting full and enthusiastically-received productions -- [which] have nothing even approaching "development" as we understand it in America. [...] Dominic Cooke's season since taking over the Royal Court is an example of what happens when structures exist that support the writing of plays (new writers' groups) and then productions. The intermediate step of readings and development without a commitment to production is largely lacking in the U.K. I am a product of a culture that produces, at the highest level, the untested plays of untested writers, and over there I'm one of dozens.”
As the row on Fin Kennedy’s blog, and several spats like it since across a variety of other blogs, attest, we in Britain fret and stamp around a lot worrying about our lot and about theatre here. For the most part, I try not to despair too much. Three years of being paid to read the Daily Mail and the tabloids has instilled in me an almost complete mistrust of hand-wringing and worst case scenarios. Yes, there are issues that want looking at and talking about - most obviously: the ongoing prominence of the British tradition of text-based work, the models of theatre management this can put in place, and the wider issue of what audiences want, expect, and are prepared to work at, or indeed are equipped with the intellectual reference points to deal with - but in our collective passion to improve everything, let’s not forget that we've got plenty to be pleased about too.