Theatre Criticism

Ruin lives and spread misery?

No, totally kidding. Though I suppose that depends on your point of view and past experience with critics. The job of a critic is to praise or tell people what to work on, and tell the reader whether a play is worth seeing and what to expect if they go.

The natural reaction to that job description is to either say “Wow, that sounds easy, I want that job” or the other understandable response of “Who are you to say what’s good or bad?!” Thanks, we get that a lot.

This is a line of work that is based on the opinion of one person that gets broadcast to many more people for the purpose of influencing them to see or not to see something. As such, it’s the duty of any good critic to take that responsibility seriously. We are after all, telling readers that they should or should given their money and time to a production that could have careers riding on it, and certainly will have the emotions of the artists invested in it.

A thoughtful, careful critic is the same as any other news reporter in that he or she should and will research the subject matter before walking into the theatre. Getting our hands on the script and reading is a good way to prepare. Some critics like to have some surprises in store. They think walking in cold is a great way to put ourselves in the shoes of the other audience members. These individuals might learn just enough about the play’s background before the curtain goes up to ensure that they don’t miss anything important and then do the bulk of their research after, to give context to opinions that they have already formed.

Research aside though, a critic’s criticism relies on his or her own opinion. And we have lots of them. Ask a critic what they thought of a play or a movie and they are unlikely to say: “It was fine.” They will most likely give an abridged version of the detailed analysis that is already printed inside their head.

However, a critic has to realize that their taste in theatre might be very different from some others who have seen or are planning on seeing the play, or that different genres have different expectations. What is really good and surprising in one type of play is pointless and contrived in another. Also, some productions may not be meant for whatever demographic the critic fits into. As such its also a critic’s responsibility to accept a play for what it is, and weigh it against other things that are similar.

And one top of all this, be funny, because some people read reviews just to see what kind of cruel metaphor will be thrown at some poor actor.