critic watch: THE ALBATROSS

09/06/2010 at 4:41 pm 2 comments

“Clever and pretty, clever and pretty”

It’s not as though I want to spend my time railing against the mediocre. I actually have better things to do than read every newspaper theatre review, given their tendency to add nothing to the context of the show. Over the last year I have been determined to turn the focus of Critic Watch away from slagging off lame reviewers (as fun as it is) and toward a more positive bent. It seems kind of petty, so I have resolved to use this column to thrash out the wider critical conversation, as it were. Because there’s plenty of it worth discussing. Alas, the people have demanded more blood be spilt at the altar, on a number of occasions my readers have said “more critic watch, please”. And I must acquiesce.

Let me be clear. It’s easy to nit-pick. It’s easy to trawl and bottom feed with targeted sniping at shallow analysis of a work. This is no different to making cheap shots at ‘difficult’ independent shows; it’s LCD journalism, and frankly, something I try to avoid. I try to be fair, to contextualise when I respond [to a piece of theatre] – whether I liked it or not. It seems right that I should take the same approach when looking other critic’s work; to forget whether I agree with the piece but understand what it is they are saying, so I might further my own pursuit of knowledge through their insight, their intent. Sometimes, however, there is a piece of criticism so trite, so weak and blurry, so bland that in order to find clarity again I must pour droplets of soy into my eyes, to fend off the seeping mediocrity attacking my brain.

Such it was when a dedicated reader alerted me to the Sydney Morning Herald review of Siren Theatre Company’s The Seagull. Yes, for those of you who thought I was some lone nut doing his solo wacky dance; Critic Watch now has lookouts. So look out! But I digress. Back to the offending article. From three hundred words, almost half are dedicated to summarising the plot. It’s a common blight of modern reviews; and I’m not the only one to think so. It seems to be something horrible and dead, chained to the neck of theatre writers that their readership needs crib notes before going in (or coming out); that we’re too thick to follow a Chekhovian romp through the
countryside. For some reason, revealing the intricacies of Chekhov’s complex comedy of unrequited (and unconditional) love triangles is a necessary thing.

But what’s the point? If we know the play, we know the plot; if we don’t know the play, well you’ve just told us what happens; so it’s already lost some of its charm. I can’t say this often enough how hard writers, directors and actors work to make this seem fresh; and there you go and blithely reveal what should be a journey. What have you added to anyone’s experience of the work? Nothing. Not a jot. In fact you have subtracted from the joy of Chekhov by giving us an inkling of the outcome.

And then, if that is not outrageous enough you have the nerve to suggest that “Some of the character readings are a bit thin”. Well, as it happens, your whole reading of the production is a bit thin. A few adjectives thrown around to describe some of the actors’ work? Is that all? No contextualisation for the current tensions within the Sydney theatre community around established vs experimental forms of writing? No Parallels about the Sydney obsession with haute célébrité while our unknown artists must scrap for the tiniest nod of recognition? I haven’t even seen the play and I can see the significance of such a production in this city, in this time. It’s not complicated.

This tepid response is finalised with the equally dilute “[The] Seagull deserves an audience.” Yes, as does any play performed in any production – but you haven’t really given us any reason why we should make it out to Marrickville on a wintery night; least of all with the opening of the review; a quote from the play which (ironically, of course) alludes to boredom of all things. But your reference to it seems to be strangely literal. Hardly inspirational for a potential audience. One can’t help but wonder just why did you write this review, Mr Blake? Apart from that they pay you to write reviews of course. Take a tip from Trigorin’s fatal flaw; lose the albatross. Write freely, with passion. People might actually respond then.

I for one will be hitting the Sidetrack Theatre before June 27th, because I love this play, its richness, it’s irony; and I know Kate Gaul has a knack for hot casting (besides the reputations of the actors speak for themselves). When I do, maybe I can throw a bit more insight as to why this play deserves to be seen.

until then, your servant

Entry filed under: CRITIC WATCH, Criticism FAIL, Sydney THEATRE. Tags: , , , , , , .

Do You Want To Know About The Future? if only we knew now what we knew then…

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kit  |  25/06/2010 at 12:35 am

    did you ever see The Seagull and what did you think???

  • 2. anvildrops  |  25/06/2010 at 3:50 pm

    not yet! it’s been crazy between the world cup and vivid and writing deadlines. i am hoping to catch it tonight or sunday, assuming there are tickets left.


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