Monday, April 06, 2009

How Do You Mentor a Young Critic?

Andrew Haydon in the Guardian:

It's curious that in Britain we appear to possess an almost instinctive understanding of what a "proper" review looks like. In fact, this is simply a matter of recognition, a largely unconscious absorption and reproduction of the current dominant model. That is to say: the snappy, attention-grabbing opener; the brief synopsis of "what it's about"; a paragraph on the production; a paragraph expanding on what it all means, and then a neat conclusion, all packaged in a piece of writing between 250 – 500 words long. Other desirable elements include: attending upon the event, noting a key detail to give an impression of the whole, attempts to evoke the acting and atmosphere and establishing a strong through-line on the piece.

Give or take, this is pretty much the standard model used across the papers and magazines that cover theatre. In a bad week, you can still see this construction through a critic's writing. But there is a problem with this form. On one hand, it's a perfectly adequate model and a useful mental discipline. On the other hand, it can quickly become a repressive tyranny.

When I was tutoring the BAC/Time Out young critics programme, I felt torn between telling them "well, this is pretty much how it's done", and not wanting to immediately slot their upsettingly acute minds into thinking of one model as a "proper review".

The problem is it feels that if one were to write in a different way, it might look like one had failed to understand what a review is meant to look like.

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