Critics have been getting it in the neck again from playwrights. But they are not the uncreative dolts of caricature, argues critic and writer David Nathanby David Nathan / January 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Critics are entitled to a better class of criticism than the pathetic stuff they are getting these days from disgruntled dramatists. Snoo Wilson told Radio 4 that the bad reviews of his cumbersome play, Moonshine, at the Hampstead Theatre were caused by the critics’ hostility to the Hampstead management; any play there, he said, would have been given the same treatment.
In his book, Acting Up (Faber ?9.99), David Hare says that the critics praised Via Dolorosa to compensate for the horrible things they said about his previous play, The Judas Kiss. “Critics always balance their review of a current work against the memory of whether they have overpraised or underpraised your previous one.” You wouldn’t think, from these idiotic notions, that these are men who can present powerful arguments in imaginative form on the stage.
Out of 14 reviews of Moonshine in Theatre Record, six mention the Hampstead management, mainly to wonder why artistic director Jenny Topper-described as “sparky” by Charles Spencer and “admirable” by Sheridan Morley-had accepted such a bad script. Of Hare’s last five plays, Skylight (1995), Amy’s View (1997), Via Dolorosa (1998) and The Blue Room (1998), four won rather admiring notices; while The Judas Kiss was panned because it said nothing new about Oscar Wilde.
Hare is on equally shaky ground when he reports that he and Stephen Schiff, screenwriter and former critic, “groped” for examples of critics who have made the transition to creativity. They did not grope as far back as Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, Alexander Woollcott and George S Kaufman. They were ignorant of Herbert Kretzmer who, while theatre critic of the Daily Express, wrote the lyrics and book for the musical Our Man Crichton and the lyrics for The Four Musketeers at Drury Lane. Later, while television critic of the Daily Mail, he wrote the lyrics of Les Mis?rables, the most successful musical of all time. Other television critics, such as Dennis Potter and Clive James, have produced notable creative work.
Frank Marcus, critic of the Sunday Telegraph, wrote The Killing of Sister George and many other plays. Francis King, who succeeded him, is an excellent novelist. John Gross, who came next, is an eminent literary figure. Sheridan Morley is No?l Coward’s and John Gielgud’s biographer and has proved himself as a director. Michael Billington and Michael Coveney are highly- regarded biographers. Charles Spencer is a novelist. Milton Shulman wrote…