Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Critical Controversy

Many of our leading daily theatre critics are ‘dead white men’ who have been in their jobs for too long according to NT Artistic Director Nick Hytner. This accusation is made by Hytner because many of them didn’t like ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ last week, and many of the female critics on the Sundays did like it. Thus a schism between the sexes must be present!

I think this was a rather unwise comment on his behalf; it smack of bitterness because one of his theatre’s shows was disliked. Plus, Mr Hytner is 51, not exactly young (although not exactly old), and white himself. Whilst I do think the age, sex, and maybe even the class profile of the daily critics is skewed, does Hytner discard peoples opinions because of their age or race? I find the idea quite offensive. Am I to despise Michael Billington because he has done his job and garnered experience over many years? I’d rather respect his experience and expertise than dismiss them out of hand (but retain the right to disagree). Acknowledging that different voices should be heard should not mean dismissing those you disagree with.

Mr Hytner clearly feels that these older white males don’t ‘get’ Kneehigh or the sensibilities of female directors, even the modern theatre as a whole perhaps. It may be true to say that an older generation are not as comfortable with certain new styles as they were with the old, but people develop and change with time too, and they are still entitled to their opinion even if they don’t embrace exactly your view of theatre. Few people regularly reading a national newspaper critic will fail to understand what sort of person that critic is, what they are open to and what their specialities are, this is our (the readers) relationship with our preferred critic. I read Nick DeJongh daily (along with several others), but I don’t agree with him very often and usually can predict how he will feel about certain production.

As for men not understanding where female directors are coming from, well, maybe. But how can a 60 year old upper middle class heterosexual male understand a 20 year old working class black gay man’s play! Simple, they just interpret what they see as individuals, and make judgements based on that. An old heterosexual male is entitled to judge a young gay male director just as they can judge a straight or lesbian female director. No one has total insight, theatre is all about different perspectives and views after all.

Nick Hytner should get on with the business of running his theatres and stop griping about critical reactions to one of his shows. Writing people off, especially by calling them dead, is insulting and beneath him. Also, Hytner himself has shown that the critical arena does have female voices, even if that does mean buying a Sunday paper, plus I know of at least one male critic who loved A Matter of Life and Death (Mark Shenton). After all if Nick thinks that perception is such a gender orientated thing, shouldn’t men and women be warned of shows that won’t appeal to them, perhaps even have separate critics!

P.S: I loved ‘Waves’, think site specific theatre is great, adore the fringe and cherish regional theatregoing; does that make me in with the cool kids?

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