After a double five-star review the Sunday before last, the Sunday Telegraph’s theatre critic Tim Walker has this week gone for a double one-star pan. “Some readers write to me from time to time”, he added, “to say that I seem to enjoy giving bad reviews. That’s not true at all. I will never again have the hours that I have had to spend sitting through mind-numbing rubbish like this,” he says, referring to the production of Equus under consideration. “I’d much rather go to great plays all the time and award them five stars, as I did to the two productions I reviewed in my last column.” (For the record, they were for The Reporter – which he was alone in giving five star status to – and Boeing-Boeing, where he was matched by Georgina Brown in a five-star rating). “That was, however, an exceptional, if not a phenomenal, week. This time around I got Mr Radcliffe, but then, I suppose, you have to take the buff with the smooth.”
You also have to take the accurate with the inaccurate in his reviews. According to Tim, “I accept that [the part of Alan Strang] has to be played by a young actor; but not someone who really is 17. Colin Firth was some years older when he played it in the National’s famous 1973 production, and had attended drama school and already undertaken a variety of roles on the stage.” Really? Colin Firth was actually just 13 in 1973 – and wasn’t even in it. Though the sight of him the buff might have induced what a friend has brilliantly referred to as “penile dementia” in some quarters, where late middle-aged men become obsessed by such naked adolescent flesh, it would have been rather suspect, if not illegal. In fact, Tim meant Peter Firth. Now we’ve all suffered from naming dyslexia – I once scrambled Nicholas and David Tennant in a review, and had the error pointed out to me by none other than Julia McKenzie! But the error here is particularly egregious, since Tim’s reference implies a level of research – that he’d checked out Firth’s drama school credits and subsequent professional work, too.
In news that will no doubt warm the cockles of hearts of both Richard Griffiths (who has stopped performances on both sides of the Atlantic when mobiles went off) and Sam Walters (who has threatened to do so and evict the offender), The Guardian today reports that Russia’s oldest theatre has become the world’s most innovative one: the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St Petersburg “last month became the first theatre company in the world to instal jamming equipment, after previous attempts to get patrons to switch off their phones failed.” A spokeswoman for the theatre, Yekaterina Slepishkova, says, “We ask people to turn their phones off before every performance. But they simply don’t listen.” So now, “we turn the system on just before the performance. We switch it off during the interval and on again for the second half. So far it’s been a resounding success.”
And the Maly Drama Theatre in St Petersburg has now followed suit. “We expect our idea to be imitated elsewhere,” Sergei Dmitryiv, the Alexandrinsky theatre’s technical director tells the Guardian. “I’ve had colleagues in Moscow asking how we did it. It’s easy. You can buy the equipment on the internet.”
Mr Walters might want to take heed!