Is the world turning into one giant bulletin board? Those of us who tweet to a wide following are constantly asked to re-tweet notifications about particular events and happenings. It’s all about publicity, of course. But although I use my Twitter feed as a news, information and reviewing channel, I regard it as an extension and complement to my editorial activities elsewhere, so I don’t typically retweet events I don’t have a connection to or already have an opinion on, because it acts as a kind of editorial endorsement if I do.
By the same token, I’m also regularly asked to ‘announce’ things in this column by PRs who clearly have never read it, because if they did they would know that it isn’t that sort of feature, either and that I typically write themed pieces around particular subjects that interest me.
But starting today, I am going to introduce a new regular feature to round-up snippets of news and discoveries that I’ve recently come across but you may not have and others that I want to promote myself.
News and reviews of critics
- Seeing the wonderful touring incarnation of Cabaret in Wimbledon last week, produced by Bill Kenwright, I spotted a new entry in the staff listings for Kenwright Towers in the programme: listed as dramaturg is Nicholas de Jongh, the former longtime drama critic of the Evening Standard whose play Plague over England had transferred to the West End’s Duchess Theatre under Kenwright’s auspices. Of course, there’s a precedent for a critic turning dramaturg: Kenneth Tynan was famously appointed the first literary manager of the National Theatre by Laurence Olivier.
As Michael Billington noted in an article in The Guardian in 2001,
Tynan’s departure to become Olivier’s literary manager with the newly formed National Theatre company in 1963 was seen by some as a sad defection: “Librarian for an obscure South London repertory company” was how Private Eye cruelly described his new job. But, for a few years at least, Tynan had a palpable and beneficial influence on the NT programme. His star-worship sometimes contradicted the ensemble ideals of the directors, William Gaskill and John Dexter, but it was clearly Tynan who goaded Olivier into playing Othello, who shrewdly nudged many of the National’s greatest hits into being and who championed more adventurous work such as the William Blake musical, Tyger, and Trevor Griffiths’ The Party.
I wonder what Nicholas de Jongh will goad Kenwright into producing (apart from his next play)?
- Meanwhile, I was intrigued to see de Jongh’s former paper giving double house room in the last month to same Edinburgh fringe play Grounded, both for its original Traverse run and then its immediate London transfer to the Gate Theatre. When Fiona Mountford reviewed it in Edinburgh, she gave it a top mark rating of five stars, enthusing that
One of the great delights of Edinburgh is catching a show at the start of the Fringe and watching it snowball into a word-of-mouth hit. Such is the fate that awaits Grounded, a one-woman drama about a fighter pilot in the US Air Force that takes us to some startling places.
But William Moore, writing again about the play’s transfer to the Gate, gave it ‘only’ four stars. While the review is still very favourable, could it be that star rating inflation applied in Edinburgh, and the Standard were doing a sanity check for its transfer now? However, unless the theatre name the critic beside the star rating, you can be sure that ads will simply say, “Evening Standard – five stars” and not mention the downgrade.
Critics take to the stage
No, I’m not giving up the day (and night) job to tread the boards myself, but I will be on a stage twice in the next month to talk about critics.
- First, on September 27, the Critics’ Circle’s theatre section, of which I am chairman, is holding a one-day centenary conference at Central School of Speech and Drama’s Embassy Theatre in Swiss Cottage, with a programme that has been brilliantly curated by the section’s secretary Heather Neill.
Entry is free, but prior registration is required (by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org) for the day’s events which run from 9.30am to 4.30pm, and will include contributions from critics and industry people alike to talk about the state of criticism, past and present.
The aforementioned Nicholas de Jongh will talk about theatrical censorship, Libby Purves of The Times will host a session on the point of criticism now, Lyn Gardner of The Guardian will host another on the challenges facing us in the future, and I will host one on the perspective of the theatre industry itself about being criticised, with a panel that will include theatre owner Nica Burns (who recently launched an impassioned plea for our continued existence at the Edinburgh Fringe), playwright David Eldridge and actress Michelle Terry. There will also be a speech by the actor and writer Michael Simkins.
- Then, on October 18, I will be part of the National Theatre’s 50th birthday celebration lunchtime discussions in the Shed looking at developments in the theatre over that period, to look at the changing state of theatre criticism ‘from broadsheet to blog.’