The other instance of press laziness is their‘] daily diaries. I overheard two punters in the Fringe queue expressing relief that The l Guardian had done their work for them in selecting the best of the Fringe. The fact is I that at the start ofthe Festival The l Guardian, The Independent and The List ' cannot possibly have seen all the shows they recommend. Fair enough. they are making fairly reliable guesses. but it’s sheer disinformation to call them critics‘ choices.
My performer’s prize for Festival Bore this year goes to Michael Billington who pondered in The Guardian why the National and the RSC aren‘t up here. In the words of Richard Spaul from Cambridge
As the welter of Festival reviews eats into untold acres of rainforest, KATIE LONDON, of Tottering Bipeds Theatre Company currently performing an adaptation of Gogol’s The Overcoat, raises a few questions about the usefulness and competence of critics.
British theatre. Raymond Ross from the Evening News
_ V Ex erimentalThe'itre Billiniton W E's-C '“ZW—em'” m/7?'-""ll~' ‘ pl'. s-b .. g . x ‘ _. - _ x, rep icatcs ()UrngSleULS. but at the same I ; 7' _, I ,_ ‘1 _ timelamentsalackofexperimentation.‘
._ gawk. w; a,“ . . Fad“ . a ~ 4. British experimentalcompaniesoftenfeel l swaggaxgyf.‘ . .-..' ‘ 3“.» ‘ ox“; thatthey should be performingin l . ’3' “xx . ?\._ \Jl'f‘ ". S) b -C‘ I I ‘ ‘ ~ I it i r ‘ . \ ) . ..‘ . d‘ er 0 roat. t sstant art practice for I _ -. " ' reviewersto analyse I’olish companies’work 1 in their political context. but to ignore or i downgrade the importance ofexperiment in 1 l
ow many critics does it take to
change a lightbulb? Answer: A
critic can’t change a lightbulb. but
he knows how it should be
changed. This is the performer’s
central carp against critics — the performer takes all the risks, while the critic sits in self-appointed judgement. ‘The media as a whole are very lazy, scared and ignorant, but mainly lazy,’ says Fringe performer Robert Llewellyn. ‘I don’t think they’re bigoted or malicious, they just can’t be bothered. Although there are exceptions, on the whole they don’t know anything about acting, theatre or writing.’
Llewellyn is one of the few performers I have spoken to who is prepared to go on the record against critics. Off the record, nearly everyone calls them vipers, accuses them of being performers manque, or simply resorts to the unprintable. Nevertheless, we hypocritical Fringe performers continue desperately to woo the press in an attempt to make our show stand out above the rest. The fact is we need the press, particularly at this Festival where thousands of companies compete for coverage.
For Tottering Bipeds it has been a week of ' hype, adrenalin and exhaustion. On the first night four papers showed — The Scotsman, The Evening News, The Festival Times and The List. Everyone wished they could wait until the second night — we were premiering an entirely new production without having had time to run the show in
the space. Reviews were good enough — ‘funny, magical, inventive, unlike anything you’ll see’ — but it was The Sunday Times who came later in the week who gave us the one we really wanted. The Scotsman, interestingly, seemed to doubt our word — yes that great Russian‘writer really did call his hero ‘Shit Son of Shit’. London promoters are coming and the British Council have been. Houses are good (which is probably more to do with word of mouth than reviews) and the applause is warm. This is more encouraging than any review — critics, promoters, the Arts Council or whatever are simply ways to reach the real people, the audience.
So much for us. It’s here in Edinburgh, I think. that accusations of laziness are most relevant. The Fringe Press Office‘s response to Frank Dunlop’s accusation that the Fringe has grown too large is that any attempt at quality control is antithetical to the spirit ofthe Fringe. Here, they tell us, any new company has a chance to make some noise and get seen alongside the big boys of British theatre. In this struggle, however, some are more equal than others. The Traverse, Assembly Rooms and Gilded Balloon have their own press officers. Companies like The Kosh and La La La Human Steps have professional press agents working specifically on their behalf. working specifically on their behalf— often in cahoots with critics who take their press releases almost verbatim.
comments that ‘you’re a reporter really. there’s basically no difference between reporting a football match and reviewing if you know what you’re doing. you shouldn‘t get too pompous about it.’ I le may be partly right. but I see it more as a diving competition — I wish critics would have some notion ofdegrees of difficulty. The boring facf_that critics are. on the whole. male and white must also be important. '1 suppose thc the established discourse of theatre reviewing is more accessible to educated middle-class people.’ says Tom Morris from
The Independentby way ofexplanation. But .
he concedes that this really isn't a sufficient defence. _
Nevertheless. in critics' favour, it is just possible that we performers take the whole
thing too seriously. In the words of my friend
Nikolai Gogol: ‘Nowadays every individual thinks the whole of society insulted when he in fact While I was writing this article at The List‘s offices. the magazine was inundated with ridiculous quibbles from groups about the placing ofadjectives.
Being a critic is not an easy job. ‘You can get
nervous as a critic just as much as a performer,‘ says Tom Morris. ‘1 take the point that my opinion is not worth intrinsically anymore than anyone else‘s. but you might equally say nor is that of the
press officer who is publicising this show and :
nor is that of the director.’
We need critics. Our work is in the public arena and as such is up for grabs. They may sometimes be seduced by their own rhetoric but they’re not, on the whole. bastards. The power ofthe press has been greatly exaggerated. Research seems to show that audience numbers are not necessarily affected, and it’s worth pointing out that generally the press, has been generous and supportive to Richard Demarco. It is the Scottish Arts Establishment which has left his gallery done for.
The Overcoat (Fringe) Tottering Bipeds. Richard Demarco Gallery (Venue 22) 55 7
0707, unti124Aug, 10.30pm, £5.50 (£4.50). 4
18 The List 23 - 29 August 1991