Features Annotated Tweets Published 19 September 2012

Ragingly Hypercritical

A call-out to theatre critics.

Daniel B. Yates

MOON stares blankly ahead. He turns his head to
one side then the other, then UP, then down –waiting.
He picks up his programme and reads the front cover.

He turns over the page and reads.
He turns over the page and reads.
He turns over the page and reads.
He turns over the page and reads.
He looks at the bock cover and reads.
He puts it down and crosses his legs and looks
about. He stares front.

Having dabbled in the practice himself Tom Stoppard’s depiction of the critic, the species Enda Walsh once called “sub-animals”, is an artfully precise balance of moderate cruelty and sheer disrespect.

Perhaps even the stage directions above are critical.  Maybe he’s skewering the propensity, now disappearing, for critics in this country versed in naturalism to read a production as if it were first and foremost a matter of reading language, an act of speaking a script.

What might be in the redundant repetition “He turns over the page and reads“? Couldn’t he just have leafed through several pages like any normal human, the poor sod? What a pitiful mania his reading is, what dull mechanical scrutiny.  And there’s an audience watching him in this unshared act; what a selfishly invisible prick  in a place of seeing and showing.

Between program notes and a vacant look around Stoppard certainly nails the critic into the coffin of insularity.  He has these two texts and between the two texts seems pretty much his world: reading is the ancillary texts of a production he is about to read.

At the beginning of Sheridan’s The Critics Dangle is reading politics from a newspaper, punctuating his studies with exclamations of “Psha!”, before quickly concluding “I hate all politics but theatrical politics” reaching for the gossipy titabout stage-rag instead.

One wonders, is there any chance of theatre criticism changing, like really changing, when the critic only reads material associated with the profession?  Are there critical voices from elsewhere which might be worth studying for their styles, their manners, their ideas and applicability to theatre?

And maybe that should be formalised.  If there is a feeling that theatre critical infrastructure in this country is more like a gentleman’s club, where honorary positions hover on the odd occasion over nice sandwiches; why not institute some sort of book club where discussion, debate and learning might occur?

We’d like to warmly invite all practicing theatre critics to the Hypercritics’ Circle.

The Greek prefix “hyper” means above and beyond, but it also means extension and generality.  It was these latter associations that Ted Nelson was playing on when he coined the word “hypertext” in 1965. “Let me introduce the word ‘hypertext’” wrote the congenial visionary,  “to mean a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper.”

We don’t use paper round these parts, we can’t afford to. We are products of the hyperculture which we don’t have time to define. “Un Hyper!” declared Serge Gainsbourg, excited by energy drink, when asked to describe Michael Jackson.

On the provisional reading list are texts from music critics like Ann Powers, Robert Christgau, Daphne Brooks, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Kodwo Eshun, Paul Morley, Daphne Carr, Mark Fisher, Simon Reynolds, Neil Kulkarni &c &c &c.  Then we’ll move onto literary critics, film critics, dance critics, sports writers, cultural critics, critical theorists &c &c &c.

We will meet in decaying East End drill halls, in tiny flats perched on beds, on rooves at night with plastic chairs and dawn views, in Angus Steak House on Shaftesbury Avenue, in charmed parks where we’ll drink cava until the world caves in.

And then we’ll come back to theatre texts; from Cibber, Hazlitt, Hunt, Shaw, Archer, Winter, Nightingale, Tynan, Hobson, and on to those we really should all have read by now; from Nicholas Ridout, Joe Kelleher, Alan Read, Dan Rebellato, Katie Mitchell, David Edgar, Hans Thies Lehmann, Erica Fischer-Licht.

All of these will be slipped inside our programmes.

Email hypercritic@exeuntmagazine.com.

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Daniel B. Yates

Educated by the state, at LSE and Goldsmiths, Daniel co-founded Exeunt in late 2010. The Guardian has characterised his work as “breaking with critical tradition” while his writing on live culture &c has appeared in TimeOut London, i-D Magazine, Vice Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives and works in London E8, and is pleasant.

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