A humble request to theatre critics

(Author’s note: I am, occasionally, a theatre critic.)


  1. Please do not use the phrase ‘self-indulgent.’ It will almost always be factually incorrect. You’re perfectly entitled to use the word ‘indulgent’, as long as you go on to clarify what is being indulged. But ‘self’-indulgent? Unless you’re very well acquainted with the creators: how the fuck would you know?
  2. There are other kinds of story, apart from the ones you’re comfortable with. Ask yourself whether you’re criticising the story for what it is, not some misguided idea of what you’d prefer it to be. The aim is not always to be ‘flawless’, to create a balance of form, content and discipline. So it’s not enough to say a show is outstanding because everything in it ‘worked perfectly’. That’s not an artistic experience. That’s passing a test.
  3. Similarly, there are other rewards to theatre apart from the literal ones. It would be nice if people wrote more often about how something felt, not merely what was understood. Especially as art is the place where we can safely feel whatever, and however, we want to feel.
  4. In that vein: please stop treating sentimentality as if it’s automatically some kind of shameful poorer relation to conflict, struggle and pain. The world is full of glorious sentimental traditions. There’s no reason they can’t be part of theatre.
  5. Theatre is alive. Please don’t judge it in the same way you would a fixed text. Or a toaster. The facile star ratings are bad enough without you assuming that the theatre makers’ aim is always to capture, kill, stuff, mount and label the experience.
  6. Remember, deep down, no-one is interested in your squeamishness. It’s simply not good enough to say you were embarrassed, on behalf of anyone or anything… including yourself. I have written this way in the past, and I profoundly regret it: your job as a witness, for those not present, is not to run away from the experience, mentally or otherwise. If you do? You absolutely must expect to be held to account for your actions and emotions, as lovers are.
  7. If you’re a younger critic, please stop writing like you’re 144 fucking years old.
  8. Ask yourself, as often as possible, whether you’re employing prejudice. Proof-read for assumptions and knee-jerks. Trust me, it’s a really good, active method if you’re seriously aiming to clear the weeds. The fuckers just grow anywhere, we all have them, it’s not always your fault that they keep appearing – but I’m astonished at how much sexist, racist, colonialist poison I’m still wading through in theatre crit. In the case of several major publications the culture pages ought to just have the word ‘OUR’ in front.
  9. “This is not theatre.” If it was a performance in a place that was, even for a moment, operating as a theatre of any kind might operate, then you’re wrong. It was theatre. Please see points 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8.
  10. “Theatre is not the place for this.” Fuuuuukin’ hell. We live in a world where you can speak face-to-face with someone on the other side of the globe at the drop of a hat, suffering a delay of less than 1 second. You can write, record and release a whole LP using only your phone. There are cave drawings of human figures with supernaturally elongated necks that we still don’t quite understand, and are probably never going to. There’s a physical recording of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode which is, at time of writing, 20,553,798,954 km from the Earth. All of this has happened. Where were you?


This humble request was brought to you by reading the collected online reviews for A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer.