Coup de theatre as foes across footlights do a swap

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Directors and actors who have boiled with fury over lacerating reviews are to get their revenge. Four theatre critics have agreed to direct plays and see them assessed in print by their erstwhile victims.

This could mean payback time, judging by recent attacks on critics by directors. One of the most memorable was by Steven Berkoff last year. "Where on earth did you dig up that piece of desiccated hack to spew off his frustration and venom from a life of miserable flops?" was merely the first line of a letter to the Times Literary Supplement.

Michael Bogdanov, artistic director of the English Shakespeare Company, lashed out at the New Statesman critics, who were guilty of "appalling lack of vision". One critic, not named, was "randomly influenced by who he's with, if he's eaten, where he sits, whether it's raining or he's suffering from a cold ... [He] is vicious, vituperative, vitriolic, objectionable, abusive, arrogant, excretory, disgruntled, cavilling".

Despite the possibility that the likes of Bogdanov and Berkoff will seize the chance to get their own back, the national critics have agreed to direct plays for public consumption at Battersea Arts Centre, south-west London, to be staged for three weeks from 8 April. Nicholas de Jongh of the London Evening Standard will direct Anouilh's The Traveller without Luggage, the Guardian's Michael Billington is to offer Pinter's The Lover and Strindberg's The Stronger, Jeremy Kingston of the Times has chosen Albertine in Five Times by Tremblay and the freelance critic James Christopher has opted for a new play, Robert Young's Shoe Shop of Desire.

Mr de Jongh admitted in his paper yesterday: "Perhaps I, or all of us, will turn out to be whipping-boys and subjects for excoriating reviews which point out how unimaginative, incompetent and uninteresting we are as theatre directors. This may be entirely true. But perhaps the whole process may siphon off a little of the accumulated bile which is stored and festered in some thespian hearts."

Mr Billington denied taking part was an act of courage. "You say it's courageous, I think it would be timorous not to seize the opportunity if offered ... It would be very boring if it was simply used by people who have some revenge motive. What I'd hope would happen is that practising artists would discuss the work seriously. If it was just vulgar retaliation it would be ... pointless."

While the "reviewers" have yet to be named, thespians look forward with relish to a clash of the titans, such as Billington v Berkoff. The only director confirmed so far is Stephen Daldry, of the Royal Court, who will review Mr de Jongh for the Standard. Luckily for him, Mr de Jongh has on the whole been generous to Daldry in his reviews, although the director may not have forgotten that de Jongh described his 1994 production of The Kitchen as "an utterly bizarre choice for the new artistic director's debut on the Court's main stage".

Leading article, page 11

THE DIRECTORS

Steven Berkoff: 'When you let loose some pathetic lout on his superior, he has the chance, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to vent all the bilious frustration of his unmarked and undesired life ...'

Michael Bogdanov: 'I am often asked which critic I dislike the most. I am hard pushed. There are many contenders ...'

THE CRITICS

Nicholas de Jongh: 'This is no evening of cheap thrills or indeed of any thrills at all. Studs, presented by Dublin's Passion Machine Theatre, never lives down to its title ... A spectacularly boring play.'

Michael Billington: 'We now have a ritual exhumation of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None which ... is so preposterously bad it has acquired the dubious status of camp.'

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