What we mean when we say critical writer: part 2

Or: Maddy has another wrangle about what it means to write from the heart of a theatre company, after reading Andrew Haydon’s awe-inspiring review of Every One

One thought on “What we mean when we say critical writer: part 2”

  • Chris Goode says:

    Thanks so much for this, Maddy. Very odd to be commenting on a post of yours in this place but I do feel the status of commenter feels right in this context 🙂

    I’m fascinated by this piece, and on the whole I feel in a happy alignment with it, but I also think it’s in a sense incomplete without my appending this coda, in which I’m going to fess up and say that I found Andrew’s review absolutely devastating. I’m aware that will sound hyperbolic and perhaps it is: but I did. I found it heartbreaking.

    There is no doubt that, as a gesture, it’s brilliant. It’s also undoubtedly a joke: not a “throwaway joke”, I agree, but an exceptionally elegant piece of precision phrasecraft: a weighty joke, not thrown but sort of lobbed. He makes it look easy and you and I both know it’s not. It’s also, of course, stylishly opportunistic: every mere-mortal reviewer learns by heart a classic half-dozen punning contemptuous wisecrack reviews from the Algonquin round table onwards and envies that earlier critic the opportunity. At one level I’m weirdly but genuinely pleased that we handed Andrew his hostage.

    What I find so upsetting about it is that twice in a row now — because, as you rightly imply, “Not me” at least says in five letters vastly more than his review of ‘Weaklings’ says in however-many ghost-town paragraphs — Andrew has chosen to express his distaste by quite emphatically subjecting the work to being ‘reviewed’, at a time when every interesting and humane tendency is, as you kind of suggest, towards criticism: towards acts of thinking critically: which I take to be, by necessity, acts of thinking *with*. Even the most damning critique is an act of sociality, and by extension, solidarity. Reviewing, conversely, has an antagonistic structure even where it’s friendly and perhaps appears supportive. I have had many many lovely star-besprinkled ‘reviews’ in the broadsheet press, for example, that are at a basic level also vandalising or defacing, simply because they establish a spurious vantage of discontinuity from the work, and can only reduce and objectify its life from that distance. Criticism might sometimes be furious or disappointed or whatever, but it can fundamentally never be a performance of disengagement: such a critical enterprise would be meaningless in itself, and therefore could only ever produce the sugar-rush energy of total narcissism.

    I am really acutely aware of there having been plenty of people (including within the company) who have huge problems with some or all of what Every One does, or sets out to do: who find the apparent normativities of its social and political presentation, or the curious variability in the pitches of the writing, or the performative and aesthetic registers of my production, sort of intolerable. Some of the questions arising out of those aversions are certainly questions that were also in the rehearsal room, in my thoughts, in Jo’s thoughts, in the conversations you’ve been having here and around the place. Others might well be questions I haven’t heard articulated yet. I really want to hear those questions. Does Andrew have those questions? We’ll never know. He doesn’t think the work is fit to bother with — except as a reviewer. I can sort of live with his contempt for my recent work, but I’m desperately sorry to think I no longer qualify for the solidarity of his critical engagement.

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