LAST NIGHT

One of the most common misconceptions about critics is that they should review process rather than results. "If they only knew how hard we'd all worked," groan the wounded practitioners when they read a harsh review. The reaction is entirely understandable but it still misses the point about the essential cruelty of criticism - essential both in the sense that it is at the heart of activity (it does have a heart, honestly), and that the activity would be meaningless without it. The fact that critics themselves can also share the misconception was beautifully demonstrated by The Works (Sun BBC2), which recorded the somewhat wizened fruit of an experiment in which four theatre critics tried their hand at directing.

The film centred on the experience of Nicholas de Jongh and James Christopher, perhaps because the others had sensibly excluded the cameras, or because these two provided such a neat study in contrast. In any case, no producer alive could have resisted the lure of De Jongh's contribution to the affair, a performance of petulant self-importance which was perfect down to the very last detail (the last detail in question being a baseball cap worn with peak backwards. Almost too excruciating, that). An early cut, from a description of De Jongh's task to a West End poster reading "The funniest night out in London" suggested that the director knew very well that he had hit paydirt.

We had better begin by giving De Jongh fair credit for courage because he did not emerge with much else from what followed. Things started badly with his refusal to attend a Director's Masterclass laid on for the novices: "I'm going to go to Richard Wilson and James Rouse-Evans, they have 20 times this girl's reputation," he snapped, quivering with a strange pre- emptive indignation. There followed some squirmingly delicious scenes: De Jongh assuring his uneasy cast that out of print he was just a pussycat; power battles with Rosemary Leach, his star, conducted by means of glacial endearments and brittle joviality; a little spasm of panic while inscribing good luck cards for the cast (could he be the first director to write "Break a leg" and really mean it?). "I don't give a f**k about the reviews," he snarled to camera on the first night, but he did, of course. He ticked off Stephen Daldry (who had also job-swapped to review De Jongh's production) with sarcastic condescension: "We know you can get by on charm and intelligence when you're a theatre director, but when you're a theatre critic you have to do a bit more work." And charm, you thought, can obviously be dispensed with entirely.

The critics were also the notional baddies in The South Bank Show's film about David Helfgott (Sun ITV), the pianist who was the subject of the hit movie Shine ("notional baddies", I think, because they declined to review the process - a human triumph over upbringing and nervous illness - and concentrated on the musical results). Shine was an emotionally effective but nonetheless meretricious drama, which - quite apart from its artistic rearrangement of fact - also peddled shallow myths about artistic inspiration, and while Leo Burley's film didn't resolve the debates it provoked (nor the violent disagreements over Helfgott's London concerts), it did offer much intriguing material to reflect on - not least the interviews with the pianist himself.

Melvyn Bragg (who looked distinctly uncomfortable as his interviewee snuggled lovingly beneath his chin) described the experience as like listening to "James Joyce on speed", but the image that occurred to me was that of a faulty tape-recorder: sometimes Helfgott threw out chunks of half- digested therapy ("but you mustn't talk about it because it's not your fault - it's your father's"), sometimes brief clues to the nature of his marriage ("but I mustn't say anything because Gillian doesn't like me to say that"). Footage of his concerts showed the audience beaming at him with the same adoring condescension which parents direct at children in a nativity play. They hadn't come to listen to the music... they'd come to be in the film, playing the appealing role of people who could recognize genius, even when it came in disguise.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future