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It’s a play not a funeral

Fashion models are, I presume, trained to look as sour as possible on the catwalk. They stomp about looking as if they’re attending a funeral which they really don’t want to be at. I have long thought that the clothes they’re modelling would look considerably better if the wearers looked as if they actually liked wearing them.

Well I think some theatre critics have somehow got into the same mindset. I often see top “A team” critics looking miserably impassive as if they’d rather be anywhere but in the theatre. Is there some code of practice that I’m not party to which requires you never to smile, laugh or applaud because you’re a critic?

If there is, I’m not going down that route – ever. Even if I’m at a show I really don’t like and of course that often happens. I always remind myself that a number of people have worked very hard on it. It’s their baby and it deserves respect. So I allow myself to respond. I laugh at the jokes if it’s appropriate and I clap as and when it feels courteous. Just because I’m a critic who will go home at the end of the show and – if necessary – write a condemnation of the production I don’t have to sit there like the gloomy spectre at the feast.

In a big proscenium arch setting the cast are unlikely to be able to see the critics but in smaller scale in-the-round venues they can.  How off-putting and dispiriting it must be if you’re sweating your socks off to give this show, that you’ve been working on for several weeks, all you’ve got if you can see two or three national newspaper critics looking po-faced as if they would rather be anywhere other than where they are. Not only is it churlish it’s also rude. Yes I know some of them see half a dozen shows a week but I often do that too. If a person is fed up with reviewing then perhaps it’s time to move on?

I was at Orange Tree Theatre for The Double Dealer last week and on press night actor Oliver Ford Davis was at the front of the in-the-round audience. At right-angles to him and a few seats away were actor Jane Wymark and her husband. All three were smiling and responding in a natural way which must have been an encouragement to the cast. There is no reason why theatre critics couldn’t be similarly relaxed although, personally, I always avoid those front row seats because it must be distracting for actors to see someone making notes so close to the action.

So please, guys, practise unbending a little. Let’s hope the fashion industry is listening too.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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