Bunch of Purves? – What is the state and fate of criticism? Does it matter? Will it? Do we even care? 

Convener(s): Matt Trueman


A host of people, some of whom I recognized, others who I did not. I’ve added some names and left space for more to be added. Please do…

Alex, Chris Goode, Johnny, Jon, Gemma, James, Maddy, Gerard, Phillipa, Emily, Amy, Kobna, David,

The following is written as if owned collectively and totally. (Probably) No one actually believes all this and yet together WE do.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

First off, we clearly do care. Perhaps I’m projecting my own rage/fire/belief onto a collection of people, but there was a vociferous engagement with the nature, both theoretical and practical, of criticism that suggested we – as critics, practitioners and audience members – want a healthy critical culture.

With the question rephrased (and, initially, misspelt) as “CRITIciSM: Do not resuscitate(?)” there was some deliberation as to whether criticism was, indeed, dead.

Turns out yes and no.

Something that goes by the name of criticism exists. It sits at the back of newspapers, it happens in the pages of Time Out, it can be found online (if one knows where to look.)

However, we are not satisfied with it. It does not have the requisite vitality. There are great critics, but the system is broken: it no longer works for us. 

More than that, there are lots of very different things that we call criticism. Perhaps we need to abolish the term itself?

If all theatre criticism stopped at midnight tonight, would we bother to reinvent it? If so, what would it look like? What form would it take? Who would be CREATING (not necessarily writing) it? Who would it be for? What role(s) would/could it fulfil? 

Reviews vs Critiques (and more besides)

  • Theatre needs reviews, as sort-of consumer guides. (Some) audiences need them to go and see a show. (Some) theatre companies need them to attract and audience.
  • In these terms, the critics (as in the council that review the vast majority) have an extraordinary and unhealthy level of influence and power.
  • But, theatre also needs critiques. This is where the system is left wanting; it doesn’t have the space to allow for them. More than that, it doesn’t even care. Why should it?
  • Criticism as a creative response. “It should be a conversation” How does it allow for/become dialogue? We’re not satisfied with the comment box scenario that the Guardian has employed – token. How does the writing become porous? How does it emerge into a critical culture? How does a piece of writing fit into that culture? Can theatre criticism be collaborative?
  • The blogosphere as an important model. There is a community and we like that it exists. (How do you sort the wheat from the chaff? How does the theatre industry harness it? If a vital opinion lands noisily in the blogosphere, does anyone hear it in amongst the cacophony of voices? How does this become sustainable/not a hobby?)
  • What we need is a new system. A new forum. But more of that later.

Who are we writing for?

  • What are the critic’s responsibilities to the artist and the work? (What if every piece of criticism began with «««««?)
  • What are the critic’s responsibilities to the process? Is the critic a medium, conveying the artists intentions to the potential audience? After all, theatre is like quartz – sometimes you can tilt it five degrees and it lets the light through. Should theatre critics be integral? Should they be independent? Can they be both?
  • Whose side are theatre critics on? Are they part of theatre or part of not-theatre? We want critics onside, not policing us, but we want them to be honest.
  • How do practitioners use critics and criticism? Can they become outside eyes in the rehearsal room? Or even be treated as such in the constant ongoing in-progressness of staged work?
  • The blogosphere harnesses that and can be both. The unlimited space of the internet means the boundaries can be blurred. Let’s blur the boundaries. Let’s defy categorisation.
  • Write for yourself. Write for others in order to write for yourself

Who are the critics?

  • We want them to have expertise, but we don’t want them to be an exclusive set. Oooh, there’s a paradox.
  • Or is it? There are far more voices with value than a first glance would suggest. We aren’t happy with the same clump of people reviewing all the work. Isn’t that absurd? No other art form has to put up with that?
  • (But hang on, we do want people to be gathering it all up together, spinning connections and making sense of it beyond individual works. Otherwise, it is a reviewing culture not a critical one.)
  • We want a diversity of voices. Young theatre critics are totally powerless

The system is broken; it has stultified itself, become a fossil, a stagnant cesspool.

It needs revitalising.



Ok, so let’s call it an anti-system. Everything that the system doesn’t do, we’ll do that. And we’ll do it well. It shall be known as THE MAGAZINE (for the time being.)

The Magazine will be all-encompassing. It will challenge its own forms, by experimenting with the nature of criticism. It will embrace artists without getting into bed with them. It will find its readership, do its important job, change its world, without breaking itself or believing its own hype. It will become sustainable and it will be more than happy to do so. It will be a creative response. It will be loved and respected. It will do all things for all (theatre) people. It will think about how it can apply and existence according to the principles of Open Space.

There are potential funders – Live Art Development Agency, Arts Admin, Arts Council England. Isn’t it just as important and in need of subsidy? Moreover, if we, the practitioners, want it, why shouldn’t it come out of our funding? What about artists including critics into their funding applications, cf Action Hero. What about festivals doing the same?

Other things to look at include: Open Dialogues, Writing Encounters Conference at York St Johns, The Inbetween Time Festival

(No one mention that journalism is dying. But, whatever happens, the magazine will happen