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 literal ly: 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 t he 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 much a critic 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 The West End was built a long time ago, and one of the ways in which it is outdated is that its seats were not designed for the average body of today.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.

5 CRITICS, including some of the above, are often accused of being unnecessarily unkind to productions they don't like. In this, as in other respects, they may just be a reflection of their readers. On Tuesday the BBC announced that Anderson Country, thereviled Radio 4 programme, had been put out of its misery. No doubt this is the right decision. It's just a shame that it offers succour to those who dipped their pens in vitriol and wrote to Feedback about how awful it was. Gerry Anderson is not a bad broadcaster, just miscast. In Stroke City, his first-person reflections on Londonderry / Derry, he was acute and perceptive. One of his replacements is to be Laurie Taylor, as if he were not ubiquitous already. Perhaps the militant tendency has got the outcome it deserves.

5 IT'S been widely noted that Martin Amis, the writer, has not been himself lately. Now I can reveal why. He has taken up acting, under the name - transparently Amisian, you have to agree - "Brad Pitt". All is now explained: why he needed to have his teeth fixed; why his fee soared to £500,000; why he left his wife for a Babe. Consider these photographs: are not the level gaze, the Jaggery lips, the lordly nose and luxury rug the same in both? Consider, also, that a couple of years ago Amis spent time in Los Angeles - to write, it was said, but people would assume that, wouldn't they? Consider that Pitt's new film is Interview with the Vampire: surely the first time that the journalistic form of which Amis is a master has featured in a film title. Consider, finally, whether you have ever seen Amis and Pitt in the same room. I rest my case.

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