Critics create a stink over Young's 'sewage works' of a comedy

On The Press: When one of their own turns playwright, the fur will fly

"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp post how it feels about dogs," said the playwright Christopher Hampton. The considerably inferior Toby Young could be forgiven for taking a similar view at the end of a week in which the first night of his latest play (co-written with Lloyd Evans) was staged, although he does have the problem that he is a critic as well as a playwright. Or a lamp post as well as a dog. He shares the role of theatre critic of The Spectator with Lloyd Evans.

It is a while since so much bile was poured on one not very significant opening by such a unanimous bunch of critics. Is it because they resent Young being on both sides of the fence while they mostly stick to the offstage side of the relationship?

Whatever the reason - and it could simply be that A Right Royal Farce is quite exceptionally bad - the scribes in the stalls were savage after watching the first night at the King's Head in north London last Monday. The play purports to be a satire on the succession to the throne following the death of the Queen, featuring the sexual antics of various members of the Royal Family.

"To call it a stinker does not do it justice," wrote Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail. "It's smellier than that sewage works next to the M4 near Heathrow." Robert Hanks in The Independent wrote of the "extraordinary feebleness of this comedy". Nicholas de Jongh said in the Evening Standard that "only people with an appetite for rank theatrical rubbish will want to gorge themselves on this relentlessly boring little farce".

The Guardian's Michael Bill-ington said that "even to summarise the inane plot requires a heroic act of will", while Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph thought the play "both tasteless and timid and "almost entirely devoid of laughs".

It seems that the play did not go down well with the critics. This band of specialist writers, who rarely enter the offices of the newspapers for which they write, tend to be individualists, possibly because they meet their colleagues and rivals only in the half-light. They seek respect, but only of those they respect - certainly not of writers of what they think of as bad plays.

These critics - some doing their jobs for decades - do not lack self-esteem but do not seek celebrity. Is this where Toby Young went wrong? He has practised self-promotion and enjoyed celebrity since his earliest days, founding The Modern Review with Julie Burchill and then exchanging public insults with her over the years.

The saga of A Right Royal Farce illustrates the application of playing the media to advantage. In June, Young was writing in The Observer about the "extremely remote" chance of the play ever being put on. Legal worries would discourage potential producers, and actors would not jeopardise their prospects of an OBE by being cast in such a play.

Publicity having been gained for the play by condemning those who would never produce it, a producer duly emerged. Last Sunday, Young and Evans occupied the How We Met slot in this newspaper, talking about each other and their play, which was opening the following night. "It's terrifying for a theatre critic to put on a play that theatre critics will come to watch," said Young, "and, of course, to criticise. For that reason both Lloyd and myself have very low expectations for A Right Royal Farce."

Having shamelessly exploited the well-known technique of reducing expectations to a level where they were likely to be exceeded, and generated some advance publicity for the first night, the authors then had the shock of finding that their very low expectations were not achieved.

Nothing for it but to accept the Daily Mail's invitation, and fee, to fill a full page under the headline "The biter bit! This theatre critic has just had his new play panned by every critic in Britain. So how does it feel, Toby?" Thus the paper that carried the "smellier than sewage" review gave the author four times as many words to muse about what went wrong and fantasise about taking the play to Broadway. Still, there were the useful italics at the bottom of the piece: "A Right Royal Farce is at the King's Head until 27 August".

That should provide time for The Spectator to review it. Although they have two theatre critics, Toby Young and Lloyd Evans, the weekly did not carry a review from the King's Head. Evans was on reviewing duty elsewhere. Clearly nobody could be found to review his play.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Creative Designer / Graphic Designer

Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Designer / Graphic Design...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - ECommerce

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers' in retail...

Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Marketing/PR Trustee for South Thames Crossroads

Voluntary, resonable expenses paid: Reach Volunteering: South Thames Crossroad...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue