theatre critics

theatre critics
   Theatre criticism in national newspapers is largely confined to the daily and Sunday broadsheets and middle-market tabloids. Specialist listing magazines such as London’s Time Out have given opportunities to new critics, although the profession still tends to be dominated by white males whose aesthetic preferences broadly follow those of their papers, and have ensured that more shows are seen and recorded, albeit briefly (often in about 100 words). Since many productions receive only the most cursory notices, national newspaper critics exert a significant influence in their choice of what they review as well as in what they say about it.
   Theatrical managements maintain an uneasy symbiotic relationships with critics: critical acclaim can bolster reputations but critical condemnation can help to close shows. Although the power of critics in Britain is not as great as it is in New York, where a bad notice from the New York Times can still kill a play overnight, Harold Hobson and Kenneth Tynan exerted a massive influence into the 1960s, so much so that Laurence Olivier is reputed to have asked Tynan to join him at the new National Theatre partly because he wanted to neutralize him as a critic.
   Critics can perform an important mediating function between productions and potential audiences, but are always under pressure from the often conflicting demands of newspaper editors and theatre managements. Theatre criticism may be regarded either as news reporting or as feature writing: the overnight review places a premium on the critic’s ability as a reporter able to give an account of a hot news event for the next morning’s newspaper. Sunday reviews and those for specialist monthly magazines tend to be more reflective but may lose the eyewitness authenticity that the best overnight criticism can sometime achieve. Theatre criticism demands that its practitioners spend much of their time every week seeing productions of very limited achievement and then writing about them. Sometimes this can lead to an eccentricity borne from a limited knowledge of the world outside the theatre; sometimes it can produce a kind of critical battle fatigue; sometimes it can lead to an eccentric championing of minor talents. However, the newspaper review is a vital source for anyone interested in theatre, not only as a guide to the present but often as the only accessible trace of a past production.
   See also: film reviews; theatre
   Further reading
    Wardle, I. (1992) Theatre Criticism, London: Faber (a contemporary journalist’s analysis of the trade).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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