Cries & Whispers

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THE EDITOR of The Late Show, Michael Poole, has launched a tirade at television critics. Writing in Media Guardian, Poole accuses the breed of being amateurs, generalists, who see their columns 'as occasions for clever-dickery'. He lists a few exceptions, such as our own Allison Pearson, without a word as to why they are exceptional, and concludes (surprise) that the exceptions prove the rule. The rule being that 'TV criticism is really for people who don't like television'. Above all, he complains that telly, in its 'troubled state', lacks 'a critical support system' of the kind that the worlds of books, theatre and art 'take for granted'.

He makes many other points, and some are fair. But his main thrust is quite wrong. Critics are not support systems. They don't exist to prop up the art-forms they cover: they exist to inform and amuse their readers. If they also help art-forms to flourish, that's great. But it's a bonus.

It is not surprising that someone in television an inward-looking world, in my experience should fail to see this. What is surprising is that it should be Michael Poole. One of his changes at The Late Show has been to turn Thursday's edition into Late Review an arts page of the air. This is a fine opportunity to unearth some new talent, some fresh voices. So who has Poole hired? As presenter, Mark Lawson, who made his name as TV critic of the Independent. Among the panellists, the aforementioned Allison Pearson. Also Tony Parsons, of the Telegraph, who is not a TV critic, but could well be: he's jokey, forthright, resolutely non-specialist. The same goes for Tom Paulin, without the jokes. The other regular critic is Joanna Coles, the Guardian columnist, who also presents Medium wave on Radio 4. All these print people add up to an entertaining panel. But their presence makes it a little hard to take Poole's strictures seriously.

TO THE theatre, for A Month in the Country. The screen shunts aside to reveal chairs, a chaise-longueodwe, and people in old costumes sitting playing cards. Tasteful set, stars (John Hurt, Helen Mirren) and a classic play (by Turgenev): yes, it's another of those stately revivals that are killing the West End.

The giveaway is the seating. Hughes's Law of Theatre states that the more chairs you see on stage, the more boring the play will be. The most fatal line an actor can deliver is 'Sit down, we need to talk'. No, no, you think: stay up, you need to do something. Drama means action. The play lasts three hours Several Months in the Country, if you ask me. I left at half-time. The show got rave reviews.

Next night (ever the optimist) I saw Johnny on a Spot at the National. There are 101 reasons may be a worse play than the Turgenev, but jokes, brio and a sense that there is an audience out there are not among them. A wisecracking satire on American politics, by the man who co-wrote The Front Page, this is a show with loads of energy. No one has time to sit down and say how they feel. Which, let's face it, we can usually guess anyway. The show was panned.