Now before you all sigh wearily and shake your heads at the rather futile game of Cannon Fodder that continues to be waged between Theatre Critics and, well, Everyone Else. Let me just say that:
a) I know that it is hideously boring and thoroughly unproductive to spend time that could valuably spent writing about exciting interesting things (brown paper packages tied up with string, mittens, etc) firing petulant salvos at people required to see 4 shows a week and submit their review almost as soon as the applause has died.
and b) That Time Out is glossy listings magazine with all of the critical weight of The Argos Catalogue.
But frankly, theatre makers deserve at least a smidgen of the effort and a gnat's breath of the thought they put into making their shows to be put into the act of writing a review. This kind of half-arsed self-aggrandising journalism-by-numbers is an insult to those who it purports to criticise.
So enough preamble. Let's take a look at the three paragraph's Logan scribbled on the back of a chewing gum wrapper, sitting on the Victoria line on the way home, giggling like a giddy school girl at his own witticisms.
First though I just want to preempt anyone leaps to his defence by stating that it is not his fault that he is straight-jacketed into writing such a puny amount about each show he sees. True, undoubtedly he has a word limit and as George Hunka and Alison Croggan amongst others have argued, it is this brutal brevity that is one of the main reasons for the hyperbolic, cliche-ridden garbage that is passed off as reviewing in the main stream media; because frankly unless your show stars Madonna or was written by an ageing white guy who made his name in the 70s, the reviewer is simply not given the space or the word count to properly engage with the piece they have seen and instead falls back on a series of superficial and lazy platitudes or smug and uninspiring digs. Enter, stage left, the review in question:
I’ve made some excuses for crying off work in my time, but this takes the cake. Yun Chin is a town clerk who throws a several-week sickie after seeing a ghost on his bike-ride home. Not surprisingly, his colleague Ku finds this hard to believe – and so Yun Chin re-enacts the cycle with her help, bringing the story of that night-time ride back to life.So for those of you at the back who aren't keeping up what Brian has rather cleverly done here is to waste almost one third of his review with a series of Johnny Vaughn inspired Nuts magazine gags about pulling sickies. Yes, it is hi-larious to juxtapose the metaphorical excesses of a theatre script with the mundane realities of our work-a-day lives. In fact, here, let me have go.
I've made some excuses for having a bit of a swingers party in my time, but this one takes the cake. Four lovers do a runner into a Forrest and all ending whacked out on some magic potion. Not surprisingly they all end up trying to get in each other's knickers, and the rest of the play is spent trying to sort out all the mess.How very clever and what an utter waste of time. And don't get me wrong, I am big fan of reviewers who enjoy nothing more than mercilessly mocking the puffed-up silliness of theatre, but when you're confined to a meagre three hundred words and your review is about the most high-profile piece that will be written on said production, surely the hard-working folk involved deserved more than your posturing ladishness. You're a theatre reviewer man, act like one - or do everyone a favour and go write on Nicolas Cage movies for FHM.
Anyway, onwards and downwards we go.
That’s the premise of ‘Bicycle’, the UK premiere of a 1983 play by Korean playwriting ‘master’, Oh Tae-Suk. And it’s not quite as intriguing as it thinks it is. If a play is conceived as a mystery to be solved in one extended, frequently interrupted flashback, with all the reduced immediacy that entails, it had better engage the audience in its mystery from the get-go. This one doesn’t. The characters of Yun Chin (Vincent Manna) and Ku (Bodelle de Ronde) are introduced so obliquely, I barely knew who they were, far less why I should care about them.Now we'll leave aside the nasty, smirking scare quotes hovering around the word master and lets go straight for my Number One Bugbear. The resumptuous imagined objectivity of mainstream theatre reviewers. Unless our good friend Brian gathered up the audience and metered out a quick straw poll of Those Who Were Engaged and Those Who Weren't (and I think we can safely assume that this is unlikely to be the case) then we can only presume that when he grandly refers to the audience, he rather more modestly means Brian Logan. Brian Logan was not engaged. Which is no crime. As Michael Billington does nothing but tell us these days, every man is entitled to his opinion. I'd just rather that His opinion wasn't assumed to be the de-facto final verdict on whether this play is engaging or not.
For the record I found its scarred and contorted storytelling and its shadowy Brechtian characters utterly engaging. I may not have cared about them, and the plot may not have been rattling along on straight steel rails like a steam train but I found it compelling. Why should playwriting that fails to comply with a standard seemingly set at some meeting in about 1965 be instantly assumed to be merely a failure to achieve that standard. Maybe the writer didn't want clearly defined characters, or a coherent plot that conveyed the play's political or social themes through personal conflict. Maybe this limited model of quality playwriting can take its outdated rhetoric and shove it where the stage lights don't reach.
But here's the real kicker:
But, while you can’t fault the commitment of the eight-strong cast, dramatically this ‘Bicycle’ seldom gets out of first gear.*The sound of one manning slow clapping in an otherwise empty room*
Oh well done. Bravo.
So let's see. You started with a hundred wasted words fatuously compering the play to real life, continued by describing the play as objectively a failure because it didn't engage you by fulfilling a standard you have imposed upon it, and then finished with a pun.
Job. well. done.
Now if you've made it this far I commend you. And as a reward I promise this is the last time I shall waste my breath writing about the mainstream media critics. And here I my final words on the matter; I believe that:
- The task of theatre criticism is not to inform a reader, that is the task a marketing department.
- Criticism that pertains to any form of objectivity or objective standard is like a man who thinks he can talk to cats.
- Theatre criticism is about personal engagement.
- For the reader, theatre criticism is about discovering someone else's opinion, not finding out whether the show is worth seeing or not.
- The star system is criticism for people who can't read.
- Reviewing, on the scale that is allowed for it in the national newspapers is a promotional tool, not theatre criticism.
- Theatre criticism reduced to three short paragraphs will invariably replace genuine engagement or effort with lazy aphorisms and cheap jokes. Small reviews lead to small-minded reviewing.