Tuesday, 10 May 2016


I'm sorry, but this is going to be one of those posts... you know, like
the guys on the manosphere do, when they totally lose it and go through a video in detail, howling in outrage at the slightest perceived insult to their intelligence.

It concerns an article about criticism. Never mind who thinks Michael Billington makes a good candidate to discuss on-line criticism (at his best, he plays a solid old school game; at his worst, he gets nostalgic for an era of 'proper scripts' and predictable political theatre). There's a call for online magazines to pay their writers (good for me, yep), and a worry that many bloggers lacks an intellectual grounding in the subject (not so good by me).

Okay, let me limit myself to one comment by Danielle Tarento.

“This is a massive generalisation, but a lot of people are not ‘proper writers’. They do not have the intellectual background or historical background or time to know what they are writing about. What they are writing about is did they like it or not, which is not what I think a review should be.”

I imagine that the context of this statement alleviates its harshness, but the article didn't give much. The leading clause - 'this is a massive generalisation' - does, however, have the subtext 'I am talking bullshit'. Massive generalisations don't impress me.

Dear God: where to start? 

What they are writing about is did they like it or not, which is not what I think a review should be.

Put aside my distrust of 'is' (see posts about the 'is of identity') and 'should'. I had a quick look at Tarento's website. She has produced a huge number of shows, and a quick glance at the impressive archive reveals... every single show's page has a quotation from a review at the head of the page. And each quotation makes it clear that the writer liked the show. 

If you don't think reviewing should be about stars and soundbites, stop using the stars and soundbites. It couldn't be the case that criticism has degenerated to its current level because theatre companies treat reviews as marketing tools, could it?

I am also intrigued by 'proper writers'. Tarento does define these but... I don't buy into her definition. I love freedom of expression, and the magic of the web lies in the potential to hear other points of view. We all love Billington, we all love The Guardian, but I enjoy reading writers who come at things from an unexpected position.

The wonderful thing about improper writers remains their ability not to get bogged down in the correct historical wisdom. 

Besides, I am totally a proper writer. I can tell you all about Aristotle, dramaturgy, Brecht, whatever... but my informed opinion means fuck all to most people. Those improper writers are more likely to communicate with other people, those outside of the loop of 'theatre communities'. You know, the people whom theatre needs to attract. 


  1. What's a 'blogger'.? I write for Londonist.com - technically it's a blog but after twelve years and with a regular readership of a million, most of them affluent enough to buy the odd London theatre ticket, who's to say we're not more influential than most print ?

  2. Hi Johnny...
    I don't know! I think it means, in the context of the quotation, someone who writes outside of traditional publications. I am trying to avoid grasping at the assumptions being made, otherwise I might go full Hulk...

  3. I love this post. For me you've totally hit the nail on the head. I do feel that Ms Tarento's comments were reported slightly unfairly by The Stage, especially as the talk must've lasted an hour or so and yet the write-up is just a few paragraphs long.

    The thing is, I love The Stage. I think it's critics are very insightful and the reviews and features are usually brilliant. In fact, I've been a subscriber for several years now, and often refer to it when I'm trying to decide what shows to see.

    But that's the problem... I'm a subscriber to The Stage... a theatre fanatic 'blogger' who WANTS to hear these insightful opinions. My mom, however, would much rather that I tell her what is good, based on what I've seen and loved. The same goes for my friends and peers. They want to know what people like them think about shows! So if you're a teenager or young adult, perhaps not one who goes to the theatre often or is particularly stagey, but still enjoys a show now and then, you'll want to know what other young people honestly have to say, and at the end of the day, if a show is worth spending money on.

    Of course, it's not just young people who blog, and it's not just young people who read blogs, but at a time when shows are struggling to get new young theatre fans through the door I think that this particular demographic's wants, needs and desires should not be ignored.

    Furthermore, some critics etc. seem to have a vendetta against bloggers because more and more are gaining respect and notoriety while print criticism is disappearing. I totally get where those critics are coming from, because no one wants to lose their job! But I wish that upcoming critics would be treated more like upcoming actors, directors etc. and seen as the next generation, not quashed out of spite.

    I hate the way 'blogger' is seen as a dirty word, and though to some extent I do understand skepticism against bloggers, I've yet to see a reason for this constant attack which stands up to scrutiny.

    Apologies that this is so long and ranty, perhaps I should write up something on my own site when I've got the time, as I apreciate this is not the most eloquent response I've ever written. But then again, maybe that's because I'm not a 'proper writer'?

    Charlotte x