Thursday, February 24, 2011

Critics in the Inky Shadows

Michael Billington in the Guardian reflects on the role of critics at audience-participatory performances:
The moment a critic sets foot on stage, he or she becomes the story; the critic also becomes complicit in the event. Over the years, I've noticed colleagues even refusing to engage in public banter with the cast: in a play at the Gate, Alastair Macaulay once reduced Marcello Magni to speechless impotence by refusing to offer him the feed-line he desperately craved. And, much as I admire Hitchings's courage, I think Macaulay was right. A critic's place is in the dark, among the watchers, not the watched.
I'm sympathetic to the idea of the critic as the objective observer. My question is, though, doesn't the critic also have an obligation to engage honestly with shows that may need their engagement?

I have been to and participated in some performances that were participatory which were big successes when the audiences participated along. I can imagine a situation in which at press night, a phalanx of stony-faced critics remaining aloof would create a bad show, but the rest of the run include shows which are much more successful.

A counter-hypothetical would be a show which is entertaining to watch, but which is horrible to participate in.

Not to say that the critic should work to make the show a success. Instead, they should just respond honestly to whatever offers the play is giving them. If they feel that they want to participate, they should participate. If not, they shouldn't.

This would create a more honest review of the participatory element -- not just from the perspective of the observer, but from the perspective of a participant. Obviously, some balance needs to be struck between the two, but if the reviewer puts up a deliberate stone wall in all circumstances, they may come out with a less accurate review.

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