The symbiotic relationship between theatre artists and producers and critics has been a rich seam for discourse and drama for decades. Full of skirmishes, fawnings, cries of foul play, there have also been the celebrities, none of whom have ever equalled Kenneth Tynan this side of the Atlantic.
A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.
A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening
And the most influential
I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger
I spent several years in theatre PR when critics really mattered not only to the box office success (in London’s West End, where they still do) but to international reputation (at the Glasgow Citizens in the 70s/80s when it was an international star). I wined, dined, ferried, fed intelligence to, and generally smoothed the way for national and international critics who came to Glasgow. In London I made sure that starry critics got the best seats and dealt with quite a few tantrums from some of those who abused their importance. That was all because it mattered to cultural and economic success.
Now in London and New York it still does, and the influence of the main critics has a direct commercial impact.
But what about outside of the West End and Broadway? At a time when the newspaper industry is in decline or crisis, and when critics abound in the blogosphere,do critics matter?
the relevance of the theatre critic to Irish theatre has been minimised. The days of an Irish Times review improving (or reducing) ticket sales at the Abbey Theatre are diminishing as the reader loses any sense of a continuous relationship with its theatre critics
Mac Conghail argues that this is because the business is not taken seriously enough, with insufficient preparation by critics and insufficient space given in newspapers. No matter how significant the play, there will only ever be 500 words, not enough, he argues, for a fullsome critique.
An intensified preparation and more print space might make for more informed reviews, but would these reviews be more intelligent and would they be more influential?
Irish Times writers have responded and Deirdre Falvey makes a fair point that the play and production should be legible when they are presented to the critics. Peter Crawley agrees that 500 words is not enough.
Mac Conghail’s point about the loss of a continuing relationship between an audience and a critic is more fundamental.
The social revolution which is going on now because of the changes in the way we communicate must change the relationship between theatres and critics. As we can all get involved, the exclusive relationship no longer holds the power. A challenge not only for critics but for the whole PR machine.
In the 21st century, we will see both increased collaboration in criticism and increased specialism.
As audiences buy and read less newspapers and as they refer more to other sources of media including blogs and through social networking, we will probably see real time collaborative audience reviews using Twitter and the like. We will need the specialist theatre writer to provide a very intelligent and informed view on the play, the production and why it is important.
Neither of these two threads can be held in a 500 word review in a newspaper.