Declaring his personal interest

Laura Barnett wrote on The Guardian’s Theatre blog of 11.4.11:

“Poor Paul Taylor. There the Independent’s theatre critic was, settling into his nice comfortable seat at London’s Old Vic for the opening night of Terence Rattigan’s Cause Célèbre, getting out his notebook and pen; feeling the lights dim, hearing the soft hush of anticipation, and then ….

Zzzzzz. He’s out for the count. And afterwards, to make matters worse, he suffers the indignity of a confrontation in the foyer with James McAvoy – who has, by a nasty quirk of fate, been sitting in the same row and taken exception to Taylor’s, er, lack of focus on the performance of his wife, Anne-Marie Duff.

Or so, at least, we understand from a diary item in the Daily Telegraph today, in which an unnamed theatregoer also at the show’s first night claims that Taylor’s snoring was distinctly audible. “The noise was deafening,” says the mole (who should try listening to my dad). “He was clearly in a very deep sleep indeed and, to be fair to the play, he had nodded off before it had even begun.” Of Taylor’s encounter with McAvoy, he or she adds: “There was a right rumpus. McAvoy was absolutely furious.”…

According to a spokesman for the Independent, Taylor will not now be reviewing the production. But he offered a good excuse: “Mr Taylor,” he says, “who has a medical condition, is under the care of a doctor and is currently on medication, was ill during the performance.” If this is the case, Taylor surely deserves understanding rather than opprobrium…

…So let’s get this into context. I suspect that falling asleep during a show is rather less rude than getting up and leaving. But surely it’s less dispiriting for a cast to perform to an auditorium full of people, asleep or otherwise, than to come back after the interval to find that half the seats have mysteriously been vacated?”

On 23 January this year, Mark Shenton wrote on the website of London theatre.co.uk:

“…As a theatregoer and a critic, I don’t think it’s possible to leave your own real-life experiences at the front door, nor (in my opinion) should you. It lends weight and gravity to your writing to admit your personal investment in the play, or your own human fallibility and frailties. The reader can then make their own judgement about your judgement based on this information…

…Like my former colleague Charles Spencer, previously chief theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph, and also Paul Taylor, who still writes for The Independent, we’ve all referenced our own experiences of depression in our reviews; I don’t think this is over-sharing, just declaring a personal interest (as I regularly do, too, when I review shows that feature former students of mine that I’ve taught at Arts Educational schools).

And regular readers (or even only occasional ones) will, by getting to know something of our own relationship to the shows we’re seeing, be able to bring their own experiences to them in the light of what we’ve said. As Hamlet first said, theatre famously holds a mirror up to nature, but it also holds it up to nurture. Readers deserve the knowledge of both that a critic brings to what they’re seeing.”

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