A bun-fight between the theatrical and critical establishments has escalated to near-hilarious proportions. It all kicked off when Nicholas Hytner, director of the National, lambasted the 'dead white men' who have held onto their jobs as first-string theatre critics for thirty years and, he claims, habitually underrate the work of female directors â a response to the underwhelming critical reception of A Matter Of Life And Death, directed by Emma Rice. The critics, of course, weren't slow to reply, as this handy digest shows. They have all pointed to their own positive reviews of female directors; the practitioners to younger, female critics who've apparently appreciated more experimental work.
Both sides, of course, are right in part. Or in other words, both sides, in part, are wrong. Am I alone in thinking that Hytner's sweeping generalisation of misogyny is blind to its inherently ageist assumptions? Andrew Haydon, in a discussion show over at right-wing internet TV station 18 Doughty St., thinks that Hytner was writing with his tongue in his cheek, and makes the point that the contentiousness of his pronouncement has provided a massive boost in publicity for the show. I certainly had no intention of seeing it until all this kicked off.
In many of the blog replies, the argument now has turned into the age-old one of whether critics should be allowed free tickets, column inches, or even to exist in the first place. One odd thing about this debate is the fact that it's happening at all: these days audience members of any age, gender or personal bigotry can get online and publish whatever they like in any number of outlets, set up their own blog, or even a whole website: the critical landscape at the Edinburgh Fringe is almost unrecognisable compared to when I first took a show there in 1992. And for every Billington there's a Reduced Billington to undermine it. This massive increase in published opinions has meant that the weight and authority of broadsheet reviewers has been diminished â and perhaps there are times when their weighty, authoritarian prose style seems pompous in comparison with a lot of 'user generated comment'. But it has meant too that the overall standard of writing has fallen: I'd rather have a well-argued, less positive critical response than the witless gush that passes for a review on the Fringe. Come August, however, I'm sure I'll eat my words, and be praying that one of the shows I'm directing is lucky enough to receive some witless gush.