Critics unburden themselves.
Congratulations to everyone who contributed to our last Centenary flourish, 100 Critical Moments in which 100 members of the Critics’ Circle recalled, in 100 words each, the art that stopped them in their tracks. And many thanks to Jude Kelly and the Royal Festival Hall for giving us the launch party on February 26.
There’s still a popular opinion about critics that “those who can write/act/direct, those who can’t review”. It’s mostly popular among those who have been at the wrong end of a critic’s pen, but nevertheless there’s a new and growing belief that criticism is not a serious discipline, that opinions are two a penny while performance at its best is priceless.
Simon launching 100 Critical Moments in the Weston Pavilions at the Royal Festival Hall
This little book being puts that myth to bed once and for all. This is not an anthology of reviews using the talent of the members to aggrandise the Circle, though. It is a demonstration of the craft and art of the critic.
They are not always, not often in fact, about the first work of art in their discipline that they came across, but the most salient. So Matt Wolf picks one of the great lines in 20th century playwriting: “’Septimus, what is carnal embrace?’” “’Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef’”. “And with that opening exchange - glistening, witty, by play’s end retrospectively wounding – Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia took wing," Matt writes. Edward Lucie-Smith finds an afternoon in in New York in 1962 when he saw his first Lichtenstein. Michael Coveney goes back to 1979 and Neil Oram’s cycle The Warp as directed by Ken Campbell, whose “rough theatrics over 19 hours on ten platform stages, inspired lunacy on a shoestring, constitutes the climactic culmination of the counter cultural fringe before the over-subsidised cringe, a rare flash of accidental genius”. The dance critic Judith Flanders doesn’t even pick a dance performance, but the RSC’s History Cycle in 2002. The experiences are not always cosy. Lara Barnett chooses to go back no further than last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and the nerve-baring piece about sexual abuse by Yael Farber: “Here, pain and violence were set to an overarching aim: that of ending the silence that surrounds the abuse of women. I will never forget this show – and nor would I want to”. When John Peter first saw Ian Charleson’s excoriating Hamlet in 1989 he thought he was an understudy. "But the moment he began 'Oh that this too too sullied flesh would melt’ I knew that this was a great actor, one of the greatest Hamlets I had seen: an intellectual, a fighter, a wounded soul, a cool but melancholy joker, regal but self-deprecating”. For our own Mark Shenton it was a viewing as a 14-year-old of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue See: “Playwrights make us see things differently – and sometimes even live differently”. For Michael Billington it was Olivier’s Tyrone in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. "Above all, there was Tyrone's despair at his wife’s drug-addiction as Olivier let out a strangled but still heart-rending cry of ‘Mary’. Not for the first time, I felt privileged to be a critic”.
The centenary year has been a busy one for the critics as we gathered, exchanged notes, debated, handed out awards to the art makers we admire, and took stock. Uppermost in our minds have been the contemporary challenges of the decline in space for newspaper reviews, the rise in social media opinion as against criticism, the double-edged promise and threat of the internet – “How do we get paid for free access reviews?” – and the changing nature of the arts we make our livings from. What critics haven’t done is protest their own value as creators of informed and trenchant guidance to the art being offered, sometimes a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the are they are reviewing. This little book shows not only that our critics have great skill, experience and insight, they truly love not only what they do but why they do it. It’s for the art, it always is.
Our other publication -
A Critical Century - a History of the Circle by William Russell and Peter Cargin. It is available on Amazon as an E book. £1.88
http://www.amazon.co.uk ........insert the title to call up the order page.
Enquiries about the Critics' Circle should be made to the Hon Gen Sec Rick Jones by email email@example.com or telephone 020 8698 2460.