Are Critics Ruining Theatre??? AA Gill vs Michael Coveney!Date: 25 June 2007
Never mind Nicholas Hytner on a bad day. Restaurant and TV critic AA Gill took another swipe at his drama peers in yesterday’s Sunday Times. And not a small one either, the piece was given three full pages (two by Gill, one page of lengthy quotes gathered from producers and directors – Peter Hall, Thelma Holt, David Johnson and David Babani - who didn’t seem to keen to join the battle) and the cover of the newspaper’s Culture supplement.
Echoing a similar blast a few years ago in the same paper (See The Goss, 24 Jun 2004), Gill declared: “No aspect of the culture is as badly served by its critics as the theatre is.”
“When talent is picked by reality television and cinema stars guarantee box office, who cares about critics?” he asked before answering that “they’re vital precisely because performers can be picked by reality TV … Every room in the culture needs strong criticism; it needs committed critics to keep the form strong and innovative … Varied and lively opinionated critics isn’t necessarily good for individual productions or artists, but it is good for the genre as whole. If there is no intellectual, aesthetic, political, spiritual, passionate argument about what gets made, then the only arbiters of value are the box office and the phone-in. Bad culture drives out good unless there is someone there to stop it.”
At the same time, he advised theatre critics to take more notice if the “real world” – “how often do you hear a critic mention seat prices, or whether the stalls might be value for money for an audience?” – and stop trying to win the affection of Theatreland. “Critics are culture’s traffic wardens. If you want to be loved, work with puppies.”
To read our own chief critic’s riposte to Gill’s attack, visit Michael Coveney’s blog. Gill’s full article can be found on the Times’ website, while theatregoers are already talking about it on the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum.