This article was printed in the last issue of Noises Off, the daily magazine of the National Student Drama Festival. It was written by Imogen Clare-Wood, a very good friend of mine, and I will post a riposte in due course. Imogen would like me to point out, however, that she had been drinking before writing this and meant it in an entirely jovial matter. I thought you should all have the pleasure of reading it.
Reviewing is a tricky business, and one that I haven’t lent myself to before today (mainly for fear of revengeful company members). But today marks a change in my critical ethos, partly due to the sudden influx of alcohol, and partly due to the increasing belief that reviewers should pay for their crimes (bit harsh, but there you go). The subject I choose for this is Daniel Hutton.
Dan has marked himself out to be at the forefront of NSDF reviewers. He has unfailingly (apart from the ‘accidental’ loss of his writing by the NOFF staff in yesterday’s issue) delivered his point of view on every piece of theatre at this festival. Sadly it has often been not kind. When thinking of Dan as a reviewer, imagine a Peter Pan-esque figure (complete with enormous grin and hair with a life of its own) – disarmingly boyish and with a belly laugh to put a hyena to shame. But unbeknownst to the companies of the plays he views, he is secretly carrying a massive fuck-off axe behind his back – he is without doubt utterly and totally cutthroat. This perhaps is what makes him in my professional opinion a decent writer – he is totally honest and unapologetic about his views. But from a personal standpoint I hate him and everything he stands for (this is probably a good time to point out that I know Dan, so I’m not just aimlessly attacking a poor defenceless aspiring theatre critic. And he can definitely take it). To quote a few of his recent NSDF opinions, there have been “weak and unoriginal plots”, shows with “too much going on”, performances “underplayed”, and plotlines incomprehensible (that one’s a paraphrase, but it’s too painful reading the actual review. Plus I can’t find the right copy of NOFF).
I think this Festival, brilliant as it is, has encouraged a trend in overly nit-picky criticism, and audiences look for a reason to fault rather than praise the productions they see. And I think Dan Hutton and his ilk are greatly responsible for this. NOFF is brilliant, and a fantastic opportunity for those wanting to write about theatre, but there seems to be a tendency to take things too seriously and writers representing themselves as too professional. When Dan writes he does not ever use the term “in my opinion” or “personally”, which in a genuinely professional setting is acceptable, but in a situation where (to quote our slightly bizarre opening speech) “we’re all in this together” seems out of place and inconsiderate.
Perhaps this is bitter resentment, perhaps this is too much white wine, but ultimately I think there has been too much criticism and not enough praise for the frankly brilliant and extraordinary theatre at this Festival, and Dan should take a step back and remember that he is not writing for his ridiculously popular blog but for a publication allowing anyone and everyone to represent an opinion. In this situation he needs to take more responsiblity for his writing, and represent himself less as an all-knowing, all-seeing theatrical deity, and more of a singular audience member.
Theatre at this Festival prompts debate, and there is no such thing as a definite opinion. No matter how high your Twitter following is. And if nothing else, I hope this article serves to remind him and others (naming no names but calling yourself a reviewer and then falling asleep in a show, Henry Ellis, is unforgivable) to be less wanky – you are not professionals yet. Which is summed up by the fact that any professional reviewer would never be able to say “Is NSDF this year perhaps going to be the boldest yet? Why yes, of course,” because no one is allowed to be publically that much of a pillock.