The Critic as Artist

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On the topic of writing play reviews the first thing to say would be, ‘Look on it as an ideas party, no one will be judging you. Have fun with it, go mental. Then go sane again; stop, check and hit that delete button.’ There are few things in life more soul crushing than the slowly dawning realization that someone has a strictly voluntary attitude towards punctuation or is using the article as an excuse to take the path less trodden through a thesaurus. I should know – I’ve seen the pained look on editor’s faces when handling my own laboured pontifications. Seriously though, to move into the colloquial (another classic mistake) reviewing is great fun. First, and perhaps most important, it represents one of the most comfortable ways to inflate your ego on the market. As you stroll through the quads you could at any moment interrupt your fellow students discussing your latest searing indictment of the Oxford stage, their voices hushed with awe. I’m not saying it’s likely but it could happen. At least you get to express your opinion to people who aren’t obligated to listen to you by ties of friendship, profession or law. And you don’t have to call yourself a ‘blogger’ while you’re doing it. Some people have a gift that they should share with the world- a real gift not just the ability to grow their hair too long and play the guitar under a tree, groupies take note. And some only think they do; it’s a critic’s job to save people from having to waste time sifting through the good and the truly awful. Our gift, dear readers, transcends that of lesser mortals and allows us to pronounce on others; magnanimity is extended to the good, and righteous (yet constructive) fury to the bad. Take this from To shout or not to shout by Sophie Duncan:

‘I do understand that shouting onstage is fun, and that it is tempting: big scene, big part, and some dimly-understood blank verse that suggests this scene is All About You And Your Big Huge Angst. Your audience is with you. Your character has just suffered unimaginable heartbreak. And naturally the only way to express this is by covering the first five rows in noise pollution and phlegm.’

People who can write like that need to be read. Note also how I clearly differentiate clearly between the writer, whose primary task is to be thoughtful, precise and imaginative, and the editor, whose job is to fill a page ostensibly dedicated to ‘stage’ in a week when there are no plays by any means necessary. Now this could be said about any section of the Cherwell but Stage has several other big advantages. You get to go see plays for free and you get the following awesome chat-up line, ‘Hey, I’m reviewing a little piece for the paper and I’ve got one spare ticket with your name on.’ Although it might be better never to use it: the option is there for you. It’s not all about ego though; you also get the liberating experience of responding to a piece of art not in theory but in practice- for yourself and for others. For all the cynicism of this article I do believe, as an editor, that reviews should be grounded in an artistic aesthetic; one that is bold, brave and, above all, punctual.

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