Admitting critical defeat

Adler and Gibb at the Royal Court. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Adler and Gibb at the Royal Court. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Mark writes regularly for The Stage, including reviews from London and the regions, features and, since 2005, a daily online column.
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OK, here's the moment I finally admit critical defeat. No, I'm not giving it all up - at least not yet - but sometimes it feels entirely impossible to make sense of what you see. Or more to the point, to then find the words to say why and how you can't.

Last night I saw the new Tim Crouch performance piece masquerading as a play, Adler & Gibb, at the Royal Court, and for the life of me couldn't make sense of any of it. At least not in any way that I could become invested in it to the point of caring about anyone in it.

I admit I took the coward's way out on Twitter: instead of posting my usual post-opening tweets, I merely stated,

More than one correspondent insisted I should: "Surely naming names is the critics job? I greatly respect your opinion...", said one.

But Twitter isn't a job, merely a free outlet; though arts journalism is rapidly hurtling towards being a service that we're expected to do for free, I don't need to invite abuse on the same terms. Disagreement, by all means, but on this occasion I knew plenty of others would have something to say if I did voice my disapproval publicly.

That's the thing about Twitter:  I've let 22,000 (and counting) people into my life at my own peril. And some of them like to shout. Lots of great things happen via Twitter, too, but the noise is sometimes overwhelming.

Reviewing, on the other hand, is a place for quieter reflection. So I chose to sit out last night's round until I could try to reflect. And though I'm none the wiser after a night's sleep, I'm looking forward to other reviews letting me in what I might have missed.


  1. Hi Mark. You say Twitter isn’t a job, but I do believe that the thoughts which critics put up on Twitter can have a significant effect on shows, and therefore the security of many other people’s jobs. I think to dismiss it as merely a free outlet is to underestimate the power of it as a media platform. The power of its reach is no doubt why feelings run deep when a critic publishes either extremely negative, or indeed positive, thoughts about a show. That and the fact that using 140 characters is a very succinct and “to the point” way of stamping judgement on weeks and weeks of work. Emotions run high because people give a great deal of themselves when collaborating to create something new in the world. I have never shouted at you on Twitter, or elsewhere, and I never shall, but I have sometimes wanted to. I am very glad that you didn’t further elaborate on a show that you were not able to fathom.

  2. I think Ali has it spot on. Many people read you Mark, and follow you on Twitter as a result. Whilst it may just be a personal account, the fact remains, if you didn’t do what you do, then you wouldn’t have that many followers. As a result, the 140 character rule can lead to tweets seeming facile, or even insulting. You seem to be neither of those in your reviews but can come across (I am certain unintentionally) that way on Twitter.

  3. Yet another outpouring of pretentious, incomprehensible tripe from the Royal Court. Now, if it was Larry Adler and Barry Gibb I’d have been there like a shot! Well done, Mark!

  4. I often feel that its exciting to read people’s tweets after a show, its a nice pre-amble to how the reviews take shape, and the more emotive responses that give way to more considered reviews are all part of the happy mess of social media. Its nice to see a number of shows of late that have the critics at odds with each other, and i’m often most intrigued to see work that is divisive. For me, extreme reactions often prove that something exciting is taking place. I don’t think its a critic’s job to safeguard employment – a critic’s job is to be a critic. Perhaps knee jerk reactions of love or hate aren’t wise, but they are human. And that’s why we have critics in the first place, right? So we can enjoy a subjective interpretation. One’s opinion may be wrong or right depending on who’s reading, but for heaven’s sake, let’s get those opinions out there and have some passion in the discussion.

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