No sooner had I written about the Daily Telegraph publishing a review about the current Shakespeare’s Globe production of Twelfth Night, and The Times following them to do the same thing, than Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director, and Sonia Friedman, who is producing its imminent West End transfer, wrote to critics to clarify matters.
Oddly, since it was my blog that no doubted prompted the intervention, I wasn’t one of the critics it was sent to. But fortunately Whatsonstage published the text in full.
The statement says:
We are doing only 18 shows at the Globe, and there will be 70 at the Apollo. Since four fifths of those who see it will not see it at the Globe, it seems to make sense that the reviews are a response to its principal home. This was a decision arrived at before casting started, and jointly agreed by the producers. We have stayed consistent to this policy since, and any press reviews on the show have not been sanctioned by us.
Of course the whole business of press nights and when reviews are ‘sanctioned’ or not is a controlling mechanism whereby producers ‘buy’ the right to when they appear depending on if and when they extend their hospitality to us. But there’s nothing at all, except critical convention and courtesy (and the impoverished budgets of newspaper arts desks), to prevent arts desks from just buying tickets and reviewing a show whenever they choose to.
It’s what, after all, theatrical bloggers do all the time. The West End Whingers would never have acquired the global fame they did with their early verdict on Love Never Dies, redubbing it ‘Paint Never Dries’, if they had observed critical niceties.
The public do not have the same constraints as critics who have to work within the system; but The Guardian has played an interesting double bluff on Twelfth Night. Instead of sending Michael Billington or Lyn Gardner to buy a ticket (if they can get one, that is, since the run is sold out), they published a selection of reader comments on the show on Friday instead on their regular reviews page, introduced by a statement that they were doing so because their critics “haven’t been able to review it yet”.
This is the same paper, of course, that once sent Billington, uninvited, toreview Jerry Hall’s first-ever performance, when she took over in The Graduate. As Michael wrote at the time,
Final judgement on Hall’s performance will have to wait until the official press night next week. But I can reveal that Sarah Bernhardt’s reputation is safe and that the earth certainly didn’t move for me.
Nor was he constrained from offering an early snap judgement, which moved him to compare her to her predecessor Kathleen Turner:
Turner brought to the alcoholic, sex-hungry Mrs Robinson a mocking stillness, a gin-smoked voice and Mae West timing, all derived from a lengthy film and stage career. Hall, having appeared on stage once before in Bus Stop, brings only a wealth of inexperience.
It is true she wears clothes with the panache you would expect of a model and that, when she strips to a black slip, something stirs in the stalls. But you never really feel that her Mrs Robinson is a predator, a lush or a bitch – simply a highly glamorous woman fishing for a younger man.
And Michael also found himself turning into a social diarist at the end of his review, noting:
I have to report that The Graduate was packed on a sweltering Monday night in August and that there was a buzz of excitement in the stalls. That, however, had less to do with the low-key events on stage than with the presence of Mick Jagger in the front stalls. People in the rear craned to get a glimpse of the legendary sexagenarian. Cameramen rushed around frenziedly seeking him in the interval. And, by the end of the show, an exceptionally dense crowd had gathered in Shaftesbury Avenue. Frankly, if I were Hall I would be a bit miffed. It’s one thing to be upstaged by your fellow-actors but quite another by your ex-husband.
Nor was this an isolated incident for the Guardian, which also made serious play of sending a range of experts and commentators to an early preview of David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the National Theatre long before Billington was invited to offer his own review.
So the idea that the critics have not been “able” to review a show has not stopped them before. And publishing a range of readers’ reviews in this way undermines their own critic even more than the Globe had already done by failing to invite critics in the first place. Of course, in the crowd-sourced world of ‘opinion is free’ journalism that The Guardian actively promotes, with content also provided to that crowd free via the internet worldwide, that’s hardly surprising.
But then the Guardian, whose editor Alan Rusbridger’s suicidal-seeming mission is to drive web traffic ahead of print sales that actually fund the operation, is perhaps simply losing so much money nowadays that it couldn’t afford to pay for Billington to actually buy a ticket to see the show.