It happens all too rarely, but oh when it does how refreshing it is. I refer to actors or others involved in theatre taking a verbal swipe at critics. The most celebrated example came when the actor Steven Berkoff allegedly threatened to kill the then critic of the London Evening Standard, Nicholas de Jongh, who sought police protection. More recently, Dame Judi Dench, normally the essence of English reserve and refinement, went for the jugular, or at least the kneecap, of the Telegraph’s reviewer Charles Spencer, after he had written witheringly of one of her her performances. She wrote to him: “I’ve always rather admired you but now I realise you’re an absolute shit.” And, referring to a stage accident which caused her to miss some performances, she added: “I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to kick you when I fell over – maybe next time.”
Now Mark Shenton of The Stage newspaper has been hit with a double whammy. First, producer Robert Fox advised him, via a Twitter response to a comment he had made about his production of Fatal Attraction, “time you got a life.”
This strikes me as an absurd riposte. Surely Mr Shenton has got a life (of sorts). He is a critic. That is his chosen life.
Then, Shenton wrote disparagingly about the West End musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Its star, and household name, Robert Lindsay, responded in a tweet (since deleted) that Shenton was “a complete twat because like most critics you have no conception how to perform or even comprehend [how] to sustain a show”.
As I say, it is refreshing when actors and producers actually engage with critics. It shows that they are passionate about their craft. But how much more refreshing it would be if their comments went beyond name-calling. Robert Lindsay makes a very interesting point when he says that critics have no conception how to perform or how to sustain a show. Ok, it’s the old complaint from artists that critics don’t know what it’s like actually to be up there doing it. But it would be illuminating if Robert Lindsay expanded on this and imparted some of his experience and wisdom on the craft of acting, and what an actor needs to do to keep a show fresh over a long run. It would be illuminating too if Robert Fox could explain the thinking behind bringing a film hit to the stage, and how he believes a stage version should differ to be meaningful.
I will never complain about theatre people engaging with critics. There should be more of it. I don’t even mind the name-calling. It’s quite amusing in its way. But it needs to be followed by real engagement, in which we can learn about the technique and magic in a stage performance. That way we can all get a life, and a richer one.
MURDER, CENTRE STAGE
A number of readers have got in touch since my piece last week complaining of stage productions in which key parts of the action are invisible to chunks of the audience. You all seem to have frustrating examples of your own. I mentioned that I did not witness from my seat Billy Budd being hanged in the Glyndebourne opera production, as it was on the side of the stage. Jenny Adams emails me to say that she saw and enjoyed David Tennant as Richard ll in the RSC production at Stratford-upon-Avon, but from her seat could not actually see the king being murdered. Memo to nation’s top directors: “Killing of the main character really quite important. All prices should be able to see it, please.”
THE CLUE IS IN THE TITLE
I’m always amused by stories of mis-heard lyrics - or mondegreens, as they are known - not least as I have often been guilty myself of mishearings, and thought for years that Jimi Hendrix was an early pioneer for gay rights, singing in Purple Haze “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” It was disappointing when I discovered that he actually sang: “Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” The latest survey of misheard lyrics does strike me as bizarre, though. A nationwide poll has found that 12 per cent of those asked thought that The Monkees, in their sixties hit “I’m a Believer”, were singing “Then I saw her face, now I’m gonna leave her.” Aside from the fact that the sentiment might be somewhat out of place in a love song, the words “I’m a Believer” are the title of the song, for goodness sake. It takes some doing to mishear, even when you know that.