ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRI NOVEMBER 5

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily that is e-mailed to subscribers every morning (to subscribe, send message to, and is also available online here

Apologies for the non-appearance of the newsletter yesterday. But I’ve been distracted by social media wars, and it highlights, for me, what a waste of time, literally, Twitter can be….

A friend once said there are no bad seats, only bad shows. This week I found myself in a terrible seat a West End first night. The Criterion (pictured below) is already notorious for its physical pillars that interrupt the view from many seats; but I actually had a couple of human pillars directly in front of my second row dress circle seats.

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The head of one of them was literally in the middle of the stage, requiring me to move my own either to the left or the right in order to see the relevant part of the stage where they action was taking place. At no point could I see the entirety of the stage. Of course, tall heads are always going to be a problem and the producer could never have anticipated this when he chose to seat me there. (And the luck of the draw would have it that the person directly in front of me was with an equally tall companion, so there was only a narrow gap between them for most of the show).

I found myself in extreme discomfort as I bobbed from one side to the other. It made a strenuous-seeming comedy to me feel even more of an effort. I felt it was genuinely unfair to review it on the basis of what I saw. Especially when, the next morning, I read a slew of rave reviews. Had they seen a different show to me? Well, they’d certainly seen it from a different perspective: namely, that they COULD actually see it.

I seemed to hit a nerve on twitter, as many people replied, “welcome to our world!”  Theatregoers often suffer just these compromised views, and there’s nothing they can do about them. It doesn’t happen to critics equate so often, as producers go out of their way to make sure we have the optimal positions to appraise their work under the best conditions possible. (Lyn Gardner recently wrote a column on Stage Door’s app and website about precisely this issue, and she asked aloud: “To be current and relevant, theatre needs to be part of wider cultural conversations, and what is reviewed tends to be most valued… If that conversation is always kicked off by those sitting in the priciest seats in the house, it may not serve theatre best in the longer run.”)

But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way, and even though I was in what were technically top price seats, I very much didn’t get the best view. And I also had one blogger say that, despite sitting behind an ACTUAL pillar, they were still able to review the show themselves. Which felt to me like a challenge to my professionalism, and I bit back — unprofessionally I now realise — wondering aloud whether anyone would care what they had to say.

Of course every critic or blogger is entitled to their opinion; and I duly messaged them with a private apology (and deleted my original tweet). This being twitter,  however, they exercised their right to continue to feel aggrieved. It was, they continued to claim, clearly my intention to insult them. And I’d (self-evidently) succeeded.

I can’t undo the past more than I have attempted to do so already. And although I can’t justify my lashing out, Twitter is a place where others, who may seem less powerful than I am, regularly exercise their right to reply to me with impunity.

Twitter is a place of enormous power, I realise, and it is a place where writers like me can be publicly challenged. That may be a useful outlet — critics give criticism, so need to be able to receive it, too. I was definitely and chasteningly out of line to question their credentials or potential reach.  

But sometimes, too, people use it to merely shoot the messenger.  Yesterday I also retweeted a feature  by Ben Lawrence in the Daily Telegraph about the cancellation of the Old Vic’s planned production of Into the Woods. One follower (now former follower, as I see he has now stopped following me), challenged me in.a long series of highly personal tweets for apparently endorsing this view.

I was being told how and why such a view was unacceptable. He’s entitled to that opinion. But I’m apparently not entitled to mine, or even for sharing that of another journalist who holds a contrary view to his. And this is where twitter takes us: to a position of terrible intolerance for other perspectives. It feels like this was a case of shooting the messenger; as the original writer of the piece is not on Twitter himself, I was being used as a proxy for his disapproval of the article. And my crime was apparently endorsing it.

These matters need to be available to be discussed at least. Cutting it off doggedly by insisting that there is only one opinion to be had is precisely how and why it seems Terry Gilliam’s involvement in the Old Vic’s production of Into the Woods was called into question in the first place.

And for the record, I think that Ben Lawrence was right to point out the risks of this line of thinking and where it comes from (in his opinion).

Part of being a critic, of course, is to have the confidence of one’s own convictions; right now, though, it seems to be dangerous to express them, whether it be about the seat one was unable to see a show from, or other matters that are not, in fact, related to the making of the art concerned.


Theatre birthdays (NOV 5): Tamzin Outhwaite, 51 (pic: in HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 2016); Sam Rockwell, 53 (pic: in FOOL FOR LOVE on Broadway in 2015); Tilda Swinton, 61

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