Four reviews for The Winterling @ The New Theatre

Review One by Amy Pearson

The initial stereotype of the Dartmoor moors would be hills, stone fences, sheep and rain. A pleasant and idyllic lifestyle. But upon being bombarded with deafening aeroplane sound effects, which made the floor rattle, this impression was completely annihilated.

Such intensity exuded from the rest of the play. Tension amongst the three East End gangsters, Wally, Mr. West , Patsy , and their notorious lifestyles intrudes the secluded moors, with events reaching a nail- biting climax. This intensity was especially prevalent in Jez Butterworth’s script, with constant questioning and repetition; the relay of dialogue helped to keep us on our toes. We were certainly made to feel the unease that the characters felt. The atmosphere was that of suspense and conflict with a lack of closure. The play ends how it began, with no clear resolution.

This sense of suspense was also portrayed through the lack of scene change. All action takes place in a dilapidated farm house, which was realised on stage. There was a stone wall, beams on the ceiling and even a working fire place! This season, the New Theatre have gone to new lengths, I thought the gravel path from the Importance of Being Earnest last Season, would be unbeatable, but they managed it!

Lighting was kept to a bare minimum, with the firelight taking precedence to help create atmosphere. Darkness was also used effectively, this being particularly noticeable at the beginning. Such uncertainty kept the audience gripped from the offset. We were quite literally in the dark.

The characters were brilliantly brought to life, and all actors need to be congratulated because it’s the start of the season, so they haven’t had long. The audience were able to really connect with the characters. This play depended on a division between the East End gangsters and the local West Country characters- and the accents were captured perfectly to ensure this. Only a five part cast, ‘The Wintlerling’ was one of the sparser plays in this respect. But all the characters ‘filled’ the space, and perhaps the introduction of any new characters would be TOO intense. The character of Draycott in particular offered the audience some relief though the dark humour.

This play is certainly a must – see. Due to the New Season, you might not even have been aware that things were up and running again, but now you know, I’m sure the booking office will be overwhelmed. If ‘The Winterling’ is a good indication of things to come, this New Theatre Season is going to surpass the last! If that’s possible.

Review Two by Mav Reynolds

This week, in which falls the opening of the New Theatre’s first season of the decade, has heralded a return of the bitter north-easterly winds blasting spring, whose nimble toes have danced but momentarily across the midlands, back towards the Irish sea. Through the icy air I approached the theatre with anticipation welling up inside me, past the shivering smokers I entered to find a smaller turnout than I had expected. It is a shame because The Winterling will be a hard play to follow. Catlin and Herbert have created a dark, dank, crumbling farmhouse, peopled by a cast that could have been plucked from one of the good Guy Ritchie films. The set is as concise as the language is verbose, opening up a beautifully realised dialogue between the two.

The play explores the relationship of Len West (Adam Wood) a former gangster to his past, represented by Patsy (Ollie Silver) and Wally (Douggie McMeekin) and to his present in the form of Draycott (David Maggs) and Lou (Jenni Herzberg). Wally arrives having trudged into the wilderness to find his old friend altered, philosophical, and yet engaging still able despite his exile to command and to manipulate. It is a play that brings to the fore the themes of possession and power, and reflects on the way people control spaces both physically and verbally.

The dynamics between the actors reach some great heights, particularly the scenes between Wood and Silver who manage a subtle exchange of mannerism and intonation, drawing out elements of the performance that lie dormant until then, and aligning the two characters in their shared plight. Maggs is fantastic as the insane tramp Draycott, whose tirades cannot fail to elicit awkward laughter. It is a shame however that we never see the relationship between Draycott and Lou, which to a large degree renders both characters one dimensional. They seem to become merely a manifestation of the warped family that West has established on Dartmoor, underpinned by the missing dog Dolly. This missing dog forms the basis for the cyclical frame which opens and closes the play, and highlights the emotional disruption which West undergoes.

Moments of brilliance are not rare, indeed they rend apart the tapestry of dramatization bathing the audience in the glow of artistic inspiration (Insert pleonastic counterpoint). There are however several rough edges. The scene between Herzberg and Wood created an unfortunate lull in the centre of this piece. The importance of the dog and the reciprocal desperation felt by the two characters should establish the importance of their relationship. But it lacked emotional layering and thus poignancy. Similarly there are parts of the character dynamics between the three Londoners that feel unpolished. It was sometimes hard to identify the process behind the power struggle, largely due to the similarities in strategy utilised by the three actors.

These however are small blemishes on what is a fantastic example of the dramatic craft. If anything they feel like the parts that have been under-rehearsed which is understandable with so little time. It would have been interesting to see what could have been done with four weeks instead of two.

The Winterling is a play that leaves one feeling enthused about language and paradoxically, for a play with little levity, about life. Plunged into the underbelly of humanity we cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of hope in the rejection of cruelty, and the refusal to be interpolated despite the prospect of unalterable loneliness and perpetual destitution.

I cannot recommend this piece highly enough. I returned to the chill atop Portland hill feeling the slow tingle upon my neck. The sensation of the imminent loss of feeling in my fingers, and the somnambulistic pleasure of reflection conducted my walk home.

Review Three by Evelyn Perry

The Winterling is a complex piece. This rather simple insight is also the most compelling part of the New Theatre’s first full production of this term. The script is tight and in many ways unfulfilling, never quite reaching the conclusions its audience long to view. However, this is the genius of Butterworth’s writing. Every inclusion, every line, every minutia of characterisation has been considered carefully, redacted, and engineered to create a manifold sequence over an extremely brief stage time. That said the script is not without it’s flaws. The character of Lue in particular is insubstantial. As a catalyst one understands her inclusion, but in a play where the four males are so clearly defined and characteristically individual, her presence is little more than a foil, teasing information and affect from West and Wally.

Synoptically, the play centres upon Len West, a gangland exile whose isolation on Dartmoor leaves a hermit-like flavour to the narrative. His associate Wally and Step-Son Patsy arrive on his request to interject some semblance of normality into his otherwise isolated existence. His neighbors Draycott, a vicious tramp, and Lue, the enigmatic and abused lodger, augment this principle storyline with a dichotomy of country life both naïve (Lue) and cynical (Draycott). These same sentiments are echoed from the city in Patsy and Wally respectively. This is a play full of echoes. Tight dialogue enphasises crackling tensions, and the rift between life in Len’s past and his current situation. Set against this, insightful monologues colour character gaps, especially Patsy’s, whose seeming superfluous nature belies his centrality in events.

The echoes are the principle strength of this script. The emphasis on repetition, small talk and reminiscence is crucial to ensuring that West and particularly Wally are not written off as two-dimensional storyboards, actors in a given situation without history. Catlin’s direction in this respect was admirable. She entices the audience into strange situations, and the actors capably portrayed the sense of ‘back story’. However, there is an implicit failure here, which was overlooked. Much of the contradiction in the play, and much of West’s longing for return is indicative of the clash of cultures between country and city. The problem was that sitting in the audience, I felt no sense that these were autonomous entities looming large in the mind of Len. The script portrays the countryside as a malign, almost conscious presence. This was wonderfully established by the howling wind played throughout which gave the invasive atmosphere, as did the haunting and skeletal set. However, I never felt that Len was that ill at ease with the countryside. His character did not seem deformed by the experience nor his desire for return sufficiently desperate. That said, these may be scriptural failings rather than performative.

Adam Wood’s portrayal of the title role was excellent in its restraint. It takes great maturity of acting to recognize the centrality of your part, even if that part is unimportance in deciding the outcome of events. His emotion was genuine, and character progression was seamless. The only slight criticism is that he seemed insufficiently apprehensive of the reunion before it occurred, though perhaps his previous dominance, as exhibited with admirable coldness later, assured his character from the start. Oli Silver’s patsy was superb. His diction was impeccable, cocky and yet uncertain. This insecurity was wonderfully conveyed by subtle moments of humour, and his questioning confrontation with West crackled with an energy and physicality I have rarely seen on any stage. He was credible, human and ultimately the most sympathetic of all the characters, a masterful performance.

McMeekin’s Wally was studied, if anything too studied. This reviewer found it somewhat frustrating and inexplicable that most lines were delivered with an oddly formalistic and husky tone; impeding the naturalism of dialogue and reminding the audience they are watching actors. I felt also that he was too phased, too expressive and too remorseful about the death of Jerry. That said his physicality was impeccable and his timings sufficiently calculated, yet I was left feeling that he cared too much as to who succeeded out of Patsy and West.

Dave Maggs was a well-rounded character and fully characterised Draycott. Comedy is natural in his character and he looked the part, with a good accent and strong stage presence. At times his blocking was puzzling and the direction of his deliveries lacked the significance they might have had. But he was sinister, comedic and a perfect embodiment of what Len hates in the countryside. Set against this, Jenni Herzberg was frustrating as Lue. I never felt we connected with her character, partly because her desperation is far too abrupt and ill explained by the script. She also lacked projection and the dog box was handled rather carelessly, robbing it of the scriptural focus it deserves as a pre-amble to the desperation of the ending. She was almost too assured to be wholly broken, yet for all this she provided an admirable turn and several poignant moments when supplemented by other characters.

Overall then, Catlin’s production was focused, taut and thrilling. The script crackles and fizzes with undercurrents of tension, age gaps and the lost sense of belonging. Her excellent cast largely realised this vision, with the only critique being that occasionally lines dragged, landing heavily in pauses, which could have been shortened by a better physical portrayal of responses. I left feeling saddened, confused and provoked by a wonderful script, excellently realised by the cast. This is undoubtedly a play to see, to ruminate on and see again. A powerful study of isolation and status, as chilling as the breeze whistling through the shattered stage.

Review Four by Alley Ornum

The 2010 spring season at the New Theatre kicked off with a bang last night as the first performance of The Winterling took to the stage. If this play is a taster of what’s to come, then it’s definitely a season you don’t want to miss.

Set in a dreary Dartmoor farmhouse, the play opens with an empty suit hanging centre stage. Before the actors even appear the audience already gain a sense of foreboding, due to the excellent set design and lighting. The roof of this abandoned farmhouse stretches into the first few rows of the audience, inviting them into this world of threat and deception. The blue lighting conveys the chill permeating into every corner, and engulfing each and every character. As the audience settles in the lights go down and the empty suit is dropped like an executed man. The menacing tone is thus set for the play as the actors take the stage.

Although the plot tends to be somewhat confusing at times with flashbacks and unclear character motivations, the acting by each and every performer makes it impossible to lose interest. Of particular mention is Ollie Silver who was perfectly cast as Patsy, a young naïve London gangster overflowing with confidence. Silver fully embraces his character and commands the stage, even when strutting around in his underwear. I couldn’t help but think of Jason Statham from the 2000 film Snatch in regards to his acting style and line delivery.

David Maggs excellently portrays Draycott, a crazed local tramp who “had a fight with a badger once.” His West Country accent rarely falters, and he manages to extract the comic moments that can be lost in a play with such heavy subject matter.

Jenni Hertzberg plays the character of Lue, a homeless girl and the only female part in this male dominated cast. Although I appreciated the chemistry when Hertzberg played opposite the character of West and Patsy, I didn’t always believe the portrayal of vulnerability in her character. Perhaps more physicality is needed to give this performance more emotional depth.

Overall, it is hard to believe that this is a student production, and not a play put on by a professional theatre company. Highly polished and always intriguing, The Winterling sets the bar high for this seasons productions at the New Theatre. It is a show that you don’t want to miss with performances you will be talking about long after leaving the theatre.

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26 Comments on this post.
  • Another Psuedonym
    19 February 2010 at 18:13
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    While I agree with Evelyn Perry’s review to a certain degree I do take issue with some of it. On the one hand, Silver’s Patsy is excellent throughout and Wood’s West, although decent in the latter part of the play, could have been more apprehensive at the start.

    As to the part about Wally though, I whole-heartedly disagree. Before entering the theatre I thought back to Catlin’s production last season. Although I thought it was overall a decent production, I did think it suffered slightly from the ‘formalistic and husky tone’ (that you pick out in McMeekin) and over-studied static approach to Richard. Walking into the Winterling, I couldn’t help but think we were going to be greeted with the same thing (especially when you consider that the characters are aged gangsters). However, I was pleasantly surprised and, as to the portrayal of Wally, I thought McMeekin had a very difficult role to play in comparison to West and Patsy. While Wood, Silver and Maggs characters are fairly succinct I got the impression that McMeekin had to make more out of a character which Butterworth had left relatively undefined.

  • Nick Pseudohurst
    19 February 2010 at 23:33
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    Mav, you seem to understand the concepts of verbosity and pleonism. Is it a joke that you have no ability to apply their remedy to your writing?

  • Evelyn Perry
    20 February 2010 at 01:24
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    Another pseudonym makes a very interesting comparison to The Country. I am glad the performances moved him to write such a passionate response and can only really emphasise that anything I wrote was merely the response of one audience member. I see now that many felt differently and can only be thankful we exist in an environment in which people can freely express their thoughts without ad hominum.

  • Dawn Maycott
    20 February 2010 at 11:33
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    Two reviewers from one house?
    Unfair. Really unfair.

  • Dawn Maycott
    20 February 2010 at 11:40
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    The scene between Wood and Herzberg was not a ‘lull’ but a relieving and necessary change of pace from the virile power dynamics of the three male characters. For me it was one of the most moving scenes in the play.

  • Harry Garfield
    20 February 2010 at 11:45
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    Some intriguing reviews for the Winterling! I wonder if I saw the same play… The notion of theatrical criticism implies that the nominated critic is offering us insights into the production we are watching. Much of the criticism tends to dwell on individual performances, and is very personal, betraying an absolute paucity of understanding on the role of the critic. (Read up on Kenneth Tynan if you want to understand what criticism should be about.) Responding to that criticism on the same level as its clearly personal impetus: I thought the production and acting was top notch, and showed a director of enormous real flair and promise. There was a sense of real ensemble. Jenni Herzberg, who I first saw in a student play last year, then in Habeus and finally as a shimmering Ophelia, simply gets better and better. Her particular talent is in her subtlety and emotional detail and depth – abundantly in evidence here. I suggest that all four critics be required to assemble themselves on stage, and be subjected to questions on what credentials they can offer to justify their status as critics, and what their own track record is as theatrical beings… and finally how they arrived at their rather confused conclusions about this wonderful show. Cheers, love and peace, Harry Garfield.

  • andy pseudome
    20 February 2010 at 12:11
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    what do hermits taste like?

  • Kenton de la Fuente
    20 February 2010 at 12:58
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    Was thoroughly impressed with this. The first plays of the semester seem to putting the rest to shame this year!

    Really strong performances from everyone, especially the three main fellas. Someone mentioned to me before I saw it that she didn’t quite know what the play was about or where it went, but I think it was pretty plain to see. It was, at its heart, the darkest of dark comedies, but there was something quite heart-wrenching there too. Kudos to Wood for a studied and startlingly real performance.

    If a director’s job is to get the most from actors, set and space with limited resources, then Becky Catlin has surely been the New Theatre’s best director this year. In The Country and now The Winterling we’ve had two plays crafted with expert vision and sensitivity. Hope she’s seriously considering directing after this uni lark is over.

  • Evelyn Perry
    20 February 2010 at 22:39
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    There is good cause to write these comments and I think this discussion is as good a place as any to apologise for a review that was clearly less well considered than I had originally thought. Having seen the response of people to my writing I was slightly taken aback that what I had written to be a positive review was viewed as so negative. Tonight I saw the play again and I hereby retract the entire article. Every night of a show is slightly different and what I saw tonight refuted all my criticisms of the performances. This has certainly taught me that reviewing a show in this environment is too difficult and that even the opinion of one person can be altered by watching twice. I will not be writing again on shows. Just wanted to apologise for my amateurish reviewing.

  • Tony Asporito
    21 February 2010 at 11:01
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    It’s as well for critics to consider the potential impact of their criticism, and to review their underlying motives when placing in print comments that the public will read. They are in a very powerful position and thus their responsibility is important. Their role should be to advance the understanding of theatre as an art form; to explore the deeper meanings of a theatrical text; and, if necessary, to take to task the playwright if he or she is being cheap or nasty or superficial. However, throughout all of this, there should also be a compelling sense of respect for the work that has gone into a show and for the integrity of the performers, writer and director. Criticism is not a forum to vent one’s innermost insecurities, to settle scores or to compete, which some of these reviews clearly imply. As for the two housemates equalising each other’s reviews and coming up with the same incoherent unpleasnantness, I urge the readers to ask themselves: who are these guys? What is THEIR track record of excellence. Live by the pen, die by the pen, dudes. PS: Agree with Harry Garfield (who he? – John Garfield’s grandson?) that Herzberg was good – a tough role in an ensemble piece. Have to say also that the director showed huge gifts with her actors. Go see “Jersualem” in London which I did two weeks ago – also a Butterworth piece – brilliant. Back to architecture… whew!

  • Carmen de Vries
    21 February 2010 at 11:06
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    Wow! Love the debate! Shall we review the reviews? Forensic vivisection for use of language and theatrical insight! Hey, why not… Better still, get the four on stage (as someone suggested) and bombard the good fellas and now contrite lady with a few penetrating questions! Saw the play last Thursday after a drunken previous night and lerved it – all of the actors – all exceptional – then went back last night to mae sure – and loved it even more! XXCarmen.

  • Andy margohurst
    22 February 2010 at 11:05
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    Good play, good set, good cast, mazel tovs all round. Let’s not shit on anyones parade

  • Mav
    24 February 2010 at 14:58
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    I could not agree more with Andy margohurst. Everyone involved should be justifiably proud of themselves.

    Should anyone wish to raise an issue with my comments in this or any other review please do so by emailing me at [email protected] and I will be more than happy to try to explain myself.

    Love Mav

  • Pseudy pseudy
    25 February 2010 at 10:53
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    Guys… Chill out? I’m sorry to need clarification but isn’t this a student site, with students writing amateur reviews of students performing amateur theatre? Perhaps it would be best for everyone if only glowing, positive reviews were written the future, so no one’s feelings get hurt.

  • Evelyn Perry
    25 February 2010 at 13:57
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    totally agree with pseudy pseudy. Seems that is the only way to avoid nasty responses to reviews!

  • NewTheatre-ite
    25 February 2010 at 16:41
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    I can think of nothing more damaging to the theatre and its actors than a continuos stream of vapid, false, glowing reviews. I say, despite not always agreeing with many of the reviewers, that critical reviews are a necessary evil. How else would we improve and learn in an environment such as the one on campus where open criticism is seemingly frowned upon? Maybe that is why the pseudonyms thrive…

  • Healthy critique is a good thing
    25 February 2010 at 18:46
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    I agree with NewTheatre-ite. Good for you for coming forward and saying that. Performers and creatives should learn from reviews that are not entirely positive. Perhaps, instead of criticising the reviewer, you should look at why they thought that and whether or not their views were justified.

    I saw Habeas Corpus last year and thought it was excellent. I did not see it again the following night to see if I enjoyed Dave cycling across the stage as much the second time. I doubt I would have, as many of the jokes would have lost their impact. I also saw The Clouds and I was disappointed. I didn’t think the modernisation of it worked for various reasons. I did not see it again the following night to make sure in case I had interpreted things wrong.

    It is unreasonable to expect someone who is writing a first night review of a play to have seen it more than once. If Impact only published reviews of plays after they had finished their run then many people would miss out.

    Criticism, both good and bad is constructive and informative if it is written by someone who is writing in a well informed and balanced way. That is what I would like when I read a review of a play.

    Evelyn Perry, stand up for yourself. You wrote an honest review of the way you saw the play the first time you saw it. Fair enough if you later changed your mind, but few people will be in your position of seeing the same play twice. I urge you to reconsider your decision not to review any more plays.

  • paul
    25 February 2010 at 22:57
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    i think the main issue stemming from new theatre people is that the two people writing the reviews (under ridiculous pseudonyms) are a big part of NT and wrote reviews of each others plays last term. they are hardly objective outsiders having either performed with, been directed by or worked with (between them) a massive amount of NT people.

    on top of this EVERYONE knows who they are. the reviews, therefore, are just bitchy ways to say what they dont have the courage to say to peoples faces. people they see and hang out with pretty much daily.

    in reality, theyre very nice chaps but the review bollocks that they have associated with themselves makes them, and the reviews, fucking pointless.

  • Healthy critique is a good thing
    25 February 2010 at 23:12
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  • Just Another Amateur
    26 February 2010 at 00:30
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    Paul has nicely summed up the general sentiment here. When you have people so intimately involved with the theatre writing reviews, an objective critique is difficult to reach. The glowing reviews they wrote for one another’s plays last term is a good example of this (saying this, The Country was top notch). Yes, this is amateur theatre, but that does not mean reviews should be handled anything but fairly and respectfully. Everyone knows that putting on a play is a delicate process, in which both director and actors make themselves instantly assailable. Taking into consideration that these people have to get out on stage in front of hundreds and act every night, even after these reviews are published, makes it all the more necessary for the reviewers to be honest, objective and considerate. Lets not shamelessly bandy around the term ‘amateur’ as a means of vindicating slippery reviewing. The New Theatre is better than that.

  • subjective spectator
    26 February 2010 at 02:31
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    The reviews are marked by their sincerity, rather than their gratuitious bitchiness. Criticism of so called ‘faults’ are arguable, but not completely invalid. They are overall, positive reviews.

  • Mav
    26 February 2010 at 04:33
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    I think that’s needlessly harsh paul, for a few reasons –

    This review Bollocks, is something that was distinctly lacking last year as you probably know – occurring rarely and when published not very informative or critical. The frustration about the absence of this feedback was something that I felt keenly.

    On the subject of objectivity – I always try to be so, fairness in praise and criticism is the most important of my agendas.

    I would certainly agree that everyone knowing who I am has made it far harder to write reviews because it takes a huge amount of courage to review your friends objectively but i’m not under any illusions that my identity is a secret.

    On the subject of other people writing – I have no bearing on them and they certainly have no bearing on me. I don’t discuss my reviews before they are written but am perfectly happy to do so afterwards with anyone.

    I don’t know how well you know me but i hoped that you might give me a little more credit – I’m not aware that I have any scores to settle or any underhanded comments to make – On that note you probably know which play I am involved in this year, I would very much appreciate an objective review written by yourself.

    Love Mav

    PS the pseudonym is purely for continuity

  • Realist
    26 February 2010 at 10:36
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    I think it’s time that the NT got over themselves, it’s a University Theatre, It’s a review of a small play in a University Magazine. Life’s too short to get angry about something so non-consequential.

    When everyone has gone home and had a few beers, who gives a shit about the New Theatre.

  • sky
    1 March 2010 at 15:17
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    Clearly quite a few people ‘give a shit’ about the New Theatre, and reviewing, for that matter. If they didn’t, then this healthy debate – which hadn’t made anyone angry until me just now upon reading Realist’s comment – wouldn’t be happening. Let’s keep this a forum for discussion rather than insults. I have enjoyed reading the above reviews and subsequent debates.
    And just for the record, it’s ‘inconsequential’.

  • Tony Asperito
    1 March 2010 at 21:52
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    Intriguing stuff! Just returned from Manchester where I saw some great theatre (prof show) and the last play at the New was easily up to that standard. So, because it’s only “amateur” and “student” it shouldn’t be taken seriously? Why not? Does this mean hat those who WROTE it were not being serious… or those who acted in it did not wish to be TAKEN seriously? Art (theatre in this case) is a serious business. The moment you put on a play in a space, you are inviting a response. The contract between audience, actor and (indeed) critic is that they are part of an event. To say: don’t take criticism to heart take it on the chin if a critic thinks you are lousy is the most astonishing piece of guff I have ever heard! Well written reviews are wonderful to behold and if they are CRITICAL from the vantage point of respect for the ART form they are reviewing so much the better. The point is not whether the actor or the reviewer is thick-skinned but whether the work is GOOD! (On either side.) As someone doing an M.A. in theatrical criticism I think this debate is a healthy one. Debate and disagreement are the life blood of theatre. but when either emerges from motives that are PERSONAL or MALICIOUS and reviews are badly written, it denigrates the art of criticism. It takes 30 minutes to write a review (clearly less in two of the cases above) and 3 weeks to put on a play. If you write a review, you must be prepared to stand by it; if you put on a play you must be prepared to accept criticism – but not ill-informed or nasty criticism. The point here is QUALITY. The play was on the whole very well done; while most of the reviews were … well leave it to you to reread them. Cheers and long live good art.

  • Jenni
    2 March 2010 at 00:46
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    Thanks Tony for your insight into the art of criticism.
    It’s always good to get a debate going, but I feel like we should bring this one to a healthy end now. I don’t want future reviewers to be deterred by any of this, as their feedback can be wonderfully constructive and insightful. So let the healthy critiquing continue.

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