There are some fascinating personal responses to theatre and criticism in the 'sphere, this week. Criticism, of course, is just another kind
of response to theatre. Alison Croggon reveals
-- as if we didn't know -- that she gets off on the conversation theatre starts... and that she, single-handedly, elevates! Meanwhile Ming-Zhu Hii just gets off on getting off
. Love is the drug... (As Brian Ferry once crooned: "Dim the lights, you can guess the rest.")
Me? I review for entirely selfish reasons. When I'm not "working" -- god, what a job! -- I apprehend theatre like television. I let it wash over me. Reviewing brings me back. To tease out the thoughts and ideas. I get so much more
out of a show if I review it.
Elsewhere, ad nauseam
, I've compared my kind of reviewing to writing a diary. You live your life, engage with it fully, then ask -- later -- what pressed your buttons and why. Same with theatre. I don't believe in critical disengagement. The critic who detaches himself from the event might as well not be there. One must participate. Love it, hate it. Then get over that love and hate. "See through it" might be a better metaphor... since you don't want to lose the passion, the human side of engaging with the event.
In the last few weeks, I've been churning over the all-too-regular stand-offs between artists and critics. The various "bannings" and attempts at manipulating or silencing critics. I tried to talk a performer friend out of "banning" a particular critic last week. Yeah, sure, the critic doesn't get
this artist's work. The reviews are unhelpful, at best.
To my surprise, Alison Croggon -- who has been on the receiving end of the mother of all bannings -- sided with the artist. Is it really better to have no reviews at all than to have one excoriating, ill-informed review after another? My attitude -- in its way equally surprising -- was: but he'll get it, eventually, won't he?
The flip face of the coin can be seen here. Matt Clayfield -- a young but almost shockingly authoritative and informed foodie -- has been bullied into pulling one of his terrific restaurant reviews from his own blog. Happily, the employer that commissioned the piece has left the damning review up for all to read. At a time when restaurateurs are just itching to get litigious, this takes considerable nerve. Read it now, while it's still up.
Critics are at their most vulnerable -- most susceptible to this kind of coercion -- when they are new at the game.
Sixteen years ago, when I was a trenchant and sometimes loutish young critic at The Melbourne Times, I scored myself a banning from a major company. (I used to joke that the company's Media Director took her job title overly literally... she attempted to direct what the media wrote and said.)
This company decided -- probably quite reasonably -- that they could do without reviews in what is, really, a glorified suburban weekly... read by a bunch of highly-educated, young and wealthy inner-urban professionals. (LOL!) "If you don't write glowing reviews," was the subtext, "then bugger you. Pay your own way. " (In a biggish aside... that brings me to an argument I once heard made by Leonard Radic: an invitation to review a show brings with it a kind of imprimatur. One has greater protection, Len suggested, under the rules of fair comment, if one's response has been sought. The producer acknowledges, in some small way, your right to criticise. They also tacitly acknowledge your authority to criticise. Russell Walsh, I should point out, used to say this argument was utter bollocks.)
Happily for me, the start of the ban coincided -- to the month -- with my ascension from the critical equivalent of County Cricket to the nation's First XI. From suburban drone to critic for a national daily. I went from the Bully List to the Suck-up-to List. But it was a line ball there. The Media Director did her damnedest to persuade my new editor not to hire me.
I still recall the telephone conversation that followed. With admirable (and uncharacteristic) cool, I explained to The Apoplectic One that we could do this the easy way or the hard way. My newspaper, The Australian Financial Review, was prepared to buy me tickets if necessary. And that -- hint hint -- might make me an even looser cannon!
The face-saving compromise, for the Media Director, meant that I wasn't invited for the next twelve months. I had to call and invite myself. (That was punishment enough, believe me!) This is roughly the time that Alison Croggon was banned by Playbox. (I was mortified by the shabby treatment meted out to her.)
Half a dozen years later, I even had some sympathy for that loud-mouth critical troglodyte Peter Goers, in Adelaide, when the local Festival declined to give him review tickets. Goers, at the very least, is an entertainer. He is, in his way, a great reviewer.
"It's the editors, finally, that need to be bitch slapped. They're the ones that need to be held accountable for the people they hire and fire." But I've also watched as 20th (and now 21st) century "Music Monsters" killed new art, new dance, new theatre with the most appalling and reactionary abuse. They've held those forms back for years and years and years. It's the editors, finally, that need to be bitch slapped. They're the ones that need to be held accountable for the people they hire and fire.
On a lighter note, I have a confession to make. I once banned a company! Not because the shows were bad -- they weren't -- but bacause the artistic director was a tyrant with a persecution complex and a very short fuse. (He once wrested the phone from his personable media contact while I was responding to an invitation. I got abused -- racially abused, even! -- for a glowing review. But that's another story...)
Labels: Adelaide Festival, Alison Croggon, bannings, blogroll, criticism, Leonard Radic, Matt Clayfield, Ming-Zhu Hii, orgasm, Peter Goers, reviewing, Russell Walsh