Critical email gaffe – will it make The Bridge wise up?
I have a unique insight of those who labour in the corners of arts journalism and in my experience, the relationship between a PR and a critic has always been built on a nonsense inside a farce, but in recent years this relationship has contorted in bizarre and unexpected new ways.
Last week Lyn Gardner’s press ticket for the new Cirque Du Solei show ‘Ovo’ was withdrawn after her one star review of a previous show. The Guardian paid £73 for a ticket and sent another critic along to get a second opinion. Madness. Nowadays, theatre criticism is on the decline: it is an artisanal industry in a technological age.
Yesterday, news broke that the publicist for the Bridge Theatre, London run of Julius Caesar sent an email by accident, intended for directors Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr regarding press seat allocations for the opening of that show, to fifty critics and bloggers. The attachment showed how many tickets each critic had been allocated and which seats they were to be sat in. Hytner hit reply-all, so everyone saw. Writing from his iPhone: “Prominent critics should be all be in A 6-19, B 6-18 or in A or B 56-69. Under no circs use AA or B.B. tickets for important critics.”
It’s certainly an old school way to press. Looking at the eye-wateringly lame list of invited ‘prominent’ critics and traditional publications (Catholic Herald anyone?) and the fact that this is a major press campaign for a major new production at Hytner and Starr’s 900-seat venue – their new commercial operation near to Tower Bridge – it raises a lot of questions. It’s also true that everyone involved could do with a kick up the arse.
N.B. Credit where it is due: the ticket prices, range from £15 to £65, which are reasonable by today’s standards.
Beyond the usual ebb and flow of shifting theatre allegiances, there has yet to be an instance of bloggers successfully being held in the same regard as traditional print critics, but they have increasingly found power in numbers.
It’s bad news for critic notebook sales, but social media is now at the heart, or the end, of all these exchanges. Perhaps a full-on, real-life siege is how all PR and blogger relationships should reach their conclusion. It would certainly be a strong test of commitment – on both sides.
This is worth getting one’s theatre knickers in a twist about, though, and it is important that the Bridge sit up and take note, which it has, unless the whole thing was a double bluff aimed solely at securing Julius Caesar some column inches. It has been interesting how gleefully the Bridge’s shortcomings have been reported, following the lukewarm reception of Young Marx too. It is an irresistible narrative: Sir Nick Hytner, the consummate theatrical mogul, has made a mistake.
Every time something goes wrong in the world of theatre, mrcarlwoodward.com gets stronger. I started the website 2 years ago with a blog by asking playwright Mark Ravenhill what his favourite emoji was (‘The winky one’) and it evolved from there; but considering how notorious the site’s become at a point when mainstream criticism is more or less dead, it’s exciting to think about what might happen next.
Anyone can start a blog and diverse voices are crucial to the conversation. Traditional reviews are so often just the start of that conversation and the opportunity bloggers can offer for long-form engagement with all theatre should be celebrated, not ignored.
Until then I’m finding new ways to adapt the spirit of the site – I’ve just launched a new fortnightly theatre podcast: COMMIT NO NUISANCE with critic Mark Shenton, and I recently ‘interviewed’ the cat from Michael Grandage’s forthcoming production of Lieutenant of Inishmore.
Julius Caesar is at the Bridge, London, until 15 April. Box office: 0843-208 1846
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 1 OF COMMIT NO NUISANCE
Theatre podcast by Mark Shenton & Carl Woodward