On criticism …

I’ve been reading a lot lately about professional theatre criticism.  The articles have been by critics themselves, artists who are the subject of said critics’ writings, and audience members. I’ve been greatly moved by a couple of pieces, one from an obituary on the respected and, from what you read, greatly liked API drama critic Michael Kuchwara who died recently, aged 63 after a professional lifetime of play reviewing.  The other was from Mark Mordue, this year’s winner of Australia’s Pascall Prize for critical writing.

It’s an understatement to say that critics aren’t particularly well regarded by those they criticise; they never have been since their inception 200 or so years ago.  Nowadays, however, it’s often for a reason you might not at first appreciate.

Recently I was in conversation with several professional theatre colleagues who were more upset by the lack of  ‘good reviewers’ than by the ignorance, dismissal, or the brickbats that come their way.  As one said to me, ‘As much as I don’t like a bad notice, if it’s from a reviewer I respect, it’s not half as bad as when it’s one from someone who doesn’t have a clue about the theatre, or who uses his or her position to show off.’  Respecting the enemy is perfectly possible, of course, and if we must think of critics in this way, then let them be the best enemies around.

One of Kuchwara’s colleagues said this about him

He was candid about stunners and stinkers he saw, but never gushy or mean. And his affection for the theater and for audiences infused every review.

He could also write well, and he knew his theatre. I like very much the phrase about being candid but never gushy or mean. Coming hot on the heels of that absolute must – knowing how theatre works – these other qualities make up a ‘good reviewer,’ are what garner respect from arts colleagues, and are finally, what constitute the ‘good enemy.’ Continue reading On criticism …