I have previously blogged (on October 10) about the phenomenon of how critics sometimes openly contradict each other: one (wo)man’s one star review is quite literally another’s five star. But as a working critic, it does (at the very least) give me pause when I suddenly feel completely out of synch with the majority of my colleagues: how often have you heard it said by members of the public, “the critics must have been watching a different show to the one I saw”, and that’s precisely how I now feel about last Thursday’s opening of the Almeida’s new production of Moliere’s The Hypochondriac.
Perhaps, on this occasion, I’m being another of Moliere’s famous comic creations, a Misanthrope, but I found the production an almost entirely laughter-free zone. And said as much in the one-star review I filed the next morning to the Sunday Express (where it has been published today). But virtually all of the colleagues I have read – from The Guardian’s Michael Billington and Benedict Nightingale in The Tmes who both awarded it four stars, to raves by Paul Taylor in The Independent, Charlie Spencer in the Daily Telegraph and Susannah Clapp in today’s Observer – have loved it.
Perhaps, in fact, I’m in dire need of a critical enema of the sort so beloved by Henry Goodman’s title character in this play; but a text message received from a friend who saw it last night told me that he agreed with what I’d warned him to expect – and that “the last 20 minutes were nearly unendurable! How does it get those notices? Aggh!” And he added, “Were you at the deadly Royal Court Upstairs play this afternoon?”
Funny he should ask about that one, which another friend told me he abandoned half way through, even though there was no interval; but after reading last Sunday’s five star rave review by John Peter of Gregory Motton’s The World’s Biggest Diamond, I ignored my friend’s advice and did indeed see this “deadly” play yesterday afternoon. Sometimes friends are more reliable than critics, it seems — which makes me start to feel a bit redundant. But then I have to remind myself that critics are only human, and therefore fallible; and that ultimately it’s a question of taste, so neither party may be exactly ‘wrong’, just expressing a different opinion.