You always remember the first time...
But, hey, reviewing’s part of journalism. Utterly disposable. I get that. I don’t mind that. (I’m kinda glad, incidentally, that my first 400-odd reviews were for the Melbourne Times. I don’t think they’ll be on Google reader anytime soon!)
A great majority of the people who do remember you want to knee-cap you. Mostly because they can’t read... and think you called their mum trailer trash. [D’oh!] But there’s a very special group of people who will remember you for the rest of their sentient lives. Prima ballerinas in London and Leningrad who can quote 25 year-old reviews verbatim cos you were the first... when they were in the back row of the corps de ballet or debuting or whatever. And you wrote that they deserved a big shiny star on their dressing room door. (Rachael Beck quoted that line back to me recently from a 1987 review! Bless.)
After last night’s performance of Love Me Tender (Mutation Theatre, Theatre Works) Sarah Ogden told me I’d reviewed her pro debut, in The Secret Garden, when she was 11. Actually, she had me worried. She said the review looked like I wasn’t sure if it was actually her I was praising. (Three tweens were alternating in the key juvie role and PR folks rarely tell you who’s ‘on’ in a show that night. Grr!) But I looked up what I’d written. It looks mercifully unambiguous. I wrote:
But the real find is Sarah Ogden, who alternates in the role of Mary with Samantha and Jaclyn Fiddes. In addition to being a very passable actor, Ogden handles the huge range of her singing part with skill and ease. She fairly belts out her end of ‘Wick’, a duet with Dickon.Sarah’s comment prompted Kirsten von Bibra to tell me that I’d reviewed one of her very first shows as director. The Wood Box she said. Now, given the vagaries of memory, it’s often easier for me to remember twenty years ago than twenty minutes ago. Primacy and recency and all that jazz. And The Wood Box was December 1989, when I’d only written 200-odd reviews. (I’ve written 20 times that number now.)
But it’s an easy one for me for other reasons. One of the debutantes in that play was a promising 20 year-old uni student by the name of Cate Blanchett. (Verdict: not bad. “Great vocal control” and “a fine voice” apparently! I do remember liking Caroline Lee better though. Heh!)
I had some words of praise for Kirsten’s direction in there as well. (Turns out it was just one. Specifically: ‘beautifully’.) (And that reminds me of a night I was shirt-fronted by a bloke whose show I had dismissed in two words. I’m wincing as I type this. They were “Pretty naff.” Yowza!)
So, yes, von Bibra had fond memories of that review, almost half a lifetime ago. Fond, but maybe not all that vivid. I was sure that my Wood Box review was the one in which I wrote about my mother’s menopause. And in the spirit of over-sharing I paraphrased the story, mostly for Sarah’s benefit. But Kirsten had no recollection of that bit. And I wondered if, after all these years, it was a false memory of mine.
Into the archives, Batman.
I found my TMT reviews from 1989. (Back in the day, I used to do ‘clippings’ as well as keeping a copy of what I’d written -- on a Hewlett Packard mainframe -- and faxed in.)
Here are the first two paragraphs of my review of The Wood Box, as printed.
When her first-born son made his journey to Europe, her soul went with him. Her thoughts were drawn to him like oceans drawn to a distant moon. She was distracted; her life suspended. My brother and I looked on, helpless.Then I mention the play! Ahem! (In my defence, my little story was really quite relevant to the content and style of the play.)
Even the tides of her fertility ceased. “At last,” she thought, “menopause.” She was wrong. When her son returned, so too did the ebb and flow she had endured for 40 years, her heart came out of hibernation.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to recall the last time I read a review in which the menstrual cycle of the critic’s mother was mentioned...
The only consolation is that neither can Kirsten von Bibra... proving that you do always remember the first time. But not always that well.