CRIES & WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
THIS IS, as you know, the column that raises the really important questions in the arts. And the latest one is this: are all theatre critics short? Or at least not tall. Our own Irving Wardle is regarded as a giant of the trade, but not literally : he stands 5 ft 7 in his socks. Paul Taylor, theatre critic of our sister paper, is not as big as that. Jack Tinker, of the Daily Mail, is closer to 5 ft than 5 ft 6: if the reviewing had not worked out, he could have been a cox. Charles Spencer, of th e DailyTelegraph, is about 5 ft 9. Michael Billington (Guardian) and Benedict Nightingale (Times) are not small, but neither are they tall. John Peter (Sunday Times) is diminutive. Michael Coveney (Observer) is stocky. The only national critics I know of who are much above average (5 ft 10) are John Gross (Sunday Telegraph) and Sheridan Morley (Spectator), but perhaps they prove the rule. Gross made his name as a reviewer of books, and only turned to the theatre a few years ago; while Morley is not so m uch acritic as an all-rounder - feature-writer, biographer, broadcaster, raconteur.

What we have here may be a coincidence. But it's more likely to be a process of natural selection. The theatre is no place for the lanky. The West End was built a long time ago, and one of the ways in which it is outdated is that its seats were not designed for the average body of today. People are getting taller. But seats are not getting bigger - not even in the subsidised theatre, which caters well for the disabled but not for the merely outsized. Very tall people can of course ask for aisle seats, but with so many directors now crossing the old dividing line between audience and cast, to stretch out is to run the risk of tripping up the leading lady as she exits stage front. And the poor critics all go to a show on the same night, so they can't allbe given seats with leg-room. Don't put your son in the stalls, Mrs Worthington, if he's an inch over 5 ft 9.

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