Dench & Lipman Scorn Wins Over Telegraph Critic???

Received wisdom is that you should never answer your critics. Not so, according to the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer. Spencer has recently attracted the scorn of two West End leading ladies – Maureen Lipman and Dame Judi Dench – following comments he made about them in reviewing their respective productions of A Little Night Music and Madame de Sade.

In critiquing the former, Spencer opined that Lipman laced the sex appeal of a character who had, in her day, seduced royalty. Lipman retaliated by submitting a pictorial collage or real-life royal consorts to the Sunday Telegraph with a note asking “what about this lot, Mr Spencer?”.

There was much worse for Dame Judi. While the play, which Spencer dubbed “deeply dodgy … theatrical torture”, received a drubbing from most critics (See Review Round-up, 19 Mar 2009), the Telegraph’s man reserved some of his harshest words for Dench. This “once discriminating actress … comes on in the formidable old boot mode she has honed playing such roles as Queen Victoria, Lady Bracknell, Elizabeth I and M in the Bond movies, and spends the whole evening looking grand, sour and cross” wrote Spencer.

He went on: “Frankly this imperious turn is becoming a bit of a bore, and I think Dench must know she’s landed herself in a dud because she isn’t nearly as fluent with her lines as one might expect … The poor woman is also landed with a series of ridiculously elaborate frocks and wigs that make her look like one of those crinoline dolls Blackpool landladies use to cover up the spare lavatory roll.” Ouch!

In response, Dench wrote back to Spencer: “I’ve always rather admired you, but now I realise you’re an absolute shit.” And, referencing an accident that caused an injury requiring her to miss several performances (See News, 24 Mar 2009), Dench added: “I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to kick you when I fell over – maybe next time…”

Spencer revealed the contents of Dench’s letter this week in his Daily Telegraph column, in which he also confessed, that rather than riling him, “my admiration for both Miss Lipman and Dame Judi has increased rather than diminished as a result of their responses. We critics are constantly dishing it out and we ought to be able to take it too. Indeed, I’m often astounded by the silent passivity of the victims of bad reviews.”

Those victims, according to Spencer, “have every right to moan if they thing we have got it seriously wrong. It won’t get them a better review next time round, unless it is deserved. But complaining certainly won’t get them a worse one.” Let’s see whether the floodgates have now opened…

As for Spencer, in his defence, he admits that the dictates of the job mean that “critics need to keep a splinter of ice in their hearts, but we aren’t all bad. As I replied to Dame Judi, I’m kind to my cat and I don’t beat my wife.”