It’s good to talk, as the old BT ads used to say (am I showing my age?) And one of the joys of social media nowadays is that everyone seems to be talking, more than ever. I do sometimes wonder, though, if anyone is actually listening anymore.
We all have our private broadcast channels via Twitter, some of them more avidly followed than others since this is the ultimate democracy where those that actually have something to say may accumulate more followers as a result. But as the noise gets louder on Twitter, people are having to scream to be heard above it all, and no wonder the conversations, such as they are, sometimes seem to descend into incivility and chaos.
I’m relieved to say that this doesn’t happen too often on my own Twitter feed. But I do find it instructive as a critic to absorb other opinions; I realise that mine is only one voice, and I actually enjoy the cut and thrust of there being more than one opinion out there. It’s one of the joys of the fact that we still have a lot of established critics in London that, as I’ve regularly pointed out on this blog, we often have radically different feelings about the very same shows.
But we typically only find out what those are when we come to read our colleagues after we’ve written our own reviews. Or do we?
Just the other day, The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner pointed out,
There’s an unwritten rule (at least I don’t think it’s written down anywhere, but it may exist in spidery writing on crumbling parchment somewhere in the dusty vaults of the Critic’s Circle) that reviewers never discuss the play they are watching with each other. The idea is that we should not have our own views infected by each other’s opinions.
Partly it is circumstances; we usually only convene, if the management extends the hospitality of a drink in the interval, in those hurried moments, not after the show, when we might have a more digested experience of the entire show, not part of it. There’s also the fact that it’s not very courteous to discuss how you’re feeling in front of your hosts; a few years ago I remember one producer writing a heartfelt letter to the editor of one paper after she was upset by overhearing a critic criticising a show, and felt it would have been more polite to have saved that opinion for the review.
But hurtling down the National Theatre stairs the other day after the press night of Edward II, three of us did exchange notes about what we’d just seen, after Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski referenced Lyn’s blog first about whether we should do so! And it was striking just how different our initial opinions was: I had not liked it at all, Andrzej had liked it quite a lot, and Henry Hitchings was somewhere between the two of us.
Would this influence our own opinions? Far from it, but it was a useful barometer that the production might divide people. And indeed, as I committed my own opinions to Twitter soon after, I had instant feedback on how true that was.
As Gary Hill tweeted,
— Gary Hills (@garyhills) September 4, 2013
Another Tweeter, Steven Durham, was on my side:
Thanks for saying it! @ShentonStage I thought it was just me! 'Concept' and set just awful. And wasn't that a part of the Othello set?
— Steven Durham (@stevendurhamuk) September 4, 2013
But then Paul Chandler offered a more chastening possibility:
@ShentonStage think it's a show more for a younger generation Mark.
— Paul Chandler (@pcchan1981) September 4, 2013
As I’ve also often remarked on this blog, there’s no such thing as a right or wrong review in any case. We inevitably bring our own age, sensibility, sexuality and experience to everything we see. And actors and readers alike, as they get to know us, may filter what we say through it.
John Heffernan who plays the title role of Edward II, spoke to this paper’s Al Senter about reviews in a recent interview and admitted,
I read them voraciously. I often get told off about this habit by other actors but somehow I always fail not to read the notices. I feel like saying to my fellow-actors, ‘How can you not read them? How can you be in this business and not want to do so?’ After all, it’s only one person’s opinion. The trouble is that as an actor, you tend to be surrounded by yes people, by friends and family who’ll always tell you that you were marvellous. So reviews can be useful. I often appeal to friends to be honest. It is very handy to have a fresh pair of eyes – even to be given notes.
I wonder which reviews he’ll find useful this time around.