Writing Honestly

6 Jan

Recently I attended the International Theatre Critics’ Conference and reported on the keynote address.

The speaker, a jolly old fellow, had six pieces of advice for reviewers:

  1. Write beautifully.
  2. Give evidence.
  3. Don’t confuse mean-spiritedness with wit.
  4. Go easy on the hyperbolic language.
  5. Write quickly.
  6. Do more than evaluate.

Several of my friends are reviewers. (I’ll own it; after all, Jesus Christ associated with tax collectors and prostitutes.)

A couple of these friends suggested that the six guidelines were missing something crucial: that reviewers should write honestly.

I can’t speak for the man who delivered the address (though I do intend to send him a letter before next Christmas) but I do have some things to say about honesty.

Some might argue that it’s implicit; that honesty is obviously a requirement of a reviewer.

I would argue that it’s not (first and foremostly) the audience you have to be honest with, but yourself.

Why did you like or not like the production?

Why did you think it was about this and not that?

What assumptions have you brought to the performance that informed your evaluation or understanding?

I’m not particularly talking about personal prejudice (you know the sort: you like someone’s work because they bought you beers at uni, or you don’t like it because they didn’t buy you enough.)

I’m talking about political, aesthetic and moral assumptions.

And if you don’t think you make any assumptions, get yourself to a play.

And watch carefully the action on your side of the curtain. (It’s the true magic of theatre.)


Veronica Kaye

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