Tuesday, January 12, 2010

“And here may I speak of what may be written about you? Never be either elated by good notices or dejected by bad ones. If you have failed in a part you will be quite aware of the fact, and to be told so in print, although a little humiliating, is something which the greatest actors have had to put up with, so why worry? If you have been savagely attacked take it philosophically. To be praised of course is very pleasant, but only get really excited about it if the writer of a good notice is someone on whose opinion you set great score. A certain section of these gentlemen endeavour in their notices to be thought extremely clever themselves (Kenneth Tynan perhaps?) and, this being so, only the minority are to be taken as profound and unbiased experts.”
Admittedly Seymour Hicks here is discussing performance, and as a stage performer I have always been fortunate enough to have been treated kindly by the critics but, as a playwright, that is an entirely different matter. I have had two plays put on in London and twice the critics with hardly an exception have given the play a thorough mauling so I think I know how an actor would feel getting the same treatment. I am writing this after my previous remarks about the actress playing Mrs Barrie in the movie “Finding Neverland”. Stage performances are ephemeral: if you’re bad in a play it can be for the most part forgotten, certainly never resurrected; film unfortunately is not and if you have been pretty rotten it is there for keeps. I was never much good at acting for film until very very late in life when I was cast as a murdering paedophile in a BBC docu-drama “The Lost Boys”. Fortunately all the parts I had in film and television up to that point were small so did not attract the attention of any critic, clever or otherwise.
Things got so bad with the critics that at one point The Royal Court in London threatened to ban them from the theatre. This set up howls of outrage and cries of depriving journalists of their livelihood. What do critics think they do in turn when the boot is on their foot? Those who have read my autobiography “No Official Umbrella” will know a whole chapter is devoted to my play “The 88” which was produced at The Old Vic thirty years ago. It took fourteen years after completion for it to be produced and it came off in fourteen nights thanks to the critics. And was it the play that was at fault? Was it really as bad as they made it out to be? Judging by audience reaction I would say not, but it was most certainly the subject t matter they took objection to – this was not fair on the play itself and, as Douglas sometimes reminds me, even after thirty years it still hurts.

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