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Shenton's View

The year’s most eagerly awaited critical blog reports…

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, and with different levels of frequency and detail. I write one myself every day, of course (on weekdays only - I have to give myself a break occasionally, and here’s early warning that I won’t be here at all next week, as I’m heading to a beach in Gran Canaria on Saturday), and I also contribute occasionally to those on The Guardian website here, and I regard them as an integral part of my journalistic life now.

You’ll also regularly find Lyn Gardner, and occasionally Michael Billington, contributing to The Guardian’s daily theatre blog, and Dominic Cavendish also posts occasional blog entries on the Daily Telegraph website. But the only other national critic to blog almost as frequently as I do is The Independent’s Michael Coveney, which he does at Whatsonstage.com.

In the US, by comparison, the only major New York critic to blog frequently is Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, which he does here, though Time Out New York’s theatre section editor David Cote and deputy Adam Feldman also post regularly on the magazine’s site here.

One way of keeping track of links to other American journalism has been on Andy Propst’s invaluable AmericanTheaterWeb, where he consolidates links to news stories from around the country as well as delivering original content of his own, but he’s just announced that eleven years on from when he founded it, he is bringing the curtain down on the site and moving to a full-time position at Theatermania.com, where he’s planning on continuing to aggregate news stories from various urban centres for the site, so perhaps all will not be lost in terms of the service he used to provide.

But if Teachout’s efforts in covering theatre beyond New York, and AmericanTheaterWeb’s diligence in showing not only that there’s a world of theatre beyond New York but also a world of theatre journalism beyond the New York Times, the latter is still the self-styled “paper of record” for New York - a phrase incidentally coined, according to the paper itself, in 1927, to help it distinguish itself from its competitors in what was then “an eight-newspaper town”.

And despite the competition from the web, the fact that the New York Times now operates in a market where it is one of only half that number of daily papers (the New York Post, Daily News and Newsday are the others) means that it now holds sway even more so than it did back in the 20s. So chief theatre critic Ben Brantley is still often the ultimate arbiter of what counts in the theatrical hemisphere - and so, for one month every summer, in the blogosphere, too, as he heads to London for his annual jaunt here, and files daily reports back home on the New York Times artsblog.

He began his filings last Friday, and reports that he awoke for his first day in town the day before “to headlines about yet another disgraced British cabinet minister, undone by revelations of financial improprieties. On my first evening in London, I attended a play about a disgrace-fearing British cabinet minister on the verge of being undone by revelations of financial improprieties.”

He went to see the Donmar’s updating of A Doll’s House, of course, and as he notes, “How exciting it is for a theatre critic to be in a town where theatre feels like an integral part of the social conversation. By that, I don’t mean simply that plays are talked about. They talk back, too; they’re part of a continuing dialogue. And what dominates the dialogue these days is money, money, money and its mistreatment in recent years.” He’s done his theatrical research, and notes that Soho Theatre is about to do a season of mini-plays (starting tonight) devoted to the state of the economy; and mentions, too, that the National have just announced David Hare’s new play The Power of Yes, which as he puts it, is “about how and why Western capitalism went kaboom”.

What’s fascinating reading Ben’s daily blogs, of course, is that he’s talking back, too, to a New York theatrical community eagerly awaiting his every word. Broadway is ever-reliant, as this year’s Tony Awards proved, on imports from the West End; but it helps to know what he has already officially approved. It was, I’m told, his lukewarm response to Michael Grandage’s production of Guys and Dolls here that gave everyone pause about taking that staging to New York. Grandage had tried but failed to cast it there, and then of course his commitment to taking the Donmar brand to the West End with the Wyndham’s season, where he ended up directing all four of the shows, meant that timetabling conflicts intervened, too. So Howard Panter pressed ahead with an entirely different production instead earlier this year; but that one got battered even worse, and closed the weekend before last.

Perhaps they ought to have had the courage of their convictions and taken the Donmar staging to New York after all. There have been lots of rumours flying around that Jude Law’s Hamlet for the Donmar may be Broadway-bound. Last week Variety rounded-up some of the London notices, and asked aloud, “To be or not to be on Broadway. That is the question being mulled since Michael Grandage’s Donmar West End production of Hamlet, starring Jude Law, opened June 3 at Wyndham’s Theater to mostly strong reviews. Rialto producers and theater owners reportedly will be traveling to London to check out the revival for a possible New York run.”

But today came the really important news about whether or not they - or the production - should make the journey: Ben Brantley checked in with his opinion here. The fact that he somewhat flippantly concentrates on the show’s fashion choices suggests that they may have something to worry about. “I suppose you’re dying to know what the well-dressed Danish royal is wearing this year. Having just seen the hit revival of Hamlet starring Jude Law at Wyndham’s Theater, I can pronounce with authority that black is bigger than ever. Now, you would expect Hamlet (Mr. Law) to wear black; he’s famous for it. But in this Donmar Warehouse production, directed by Michael Grandage, everybody wears black, in chic but simple combinations that suggest that the show’s costume designer (Christopher Oram) has made a raid on Top Shop, though completely ignoring the bright colors that are popping up crocus-like all over London’s streets.”

He then suggests a marketing and merchandise opportunity: “Let me say that this production - which is drawing flocks of young theatergoers who, what’s more, really seem to be enjoying themselves - has the potential to go into whole new areas of show-related merchandising. That black raincoat and peacoat and assorted unconstructed jackets that Mr. Law wears? Run ‘em up in one-size-fits all patterns. They’ll fly out of the lobby during the interval, and Kate Moss will eat her heart out.”

4 Comments

Blog is a blog is a blog is a blog ...

You ascribe way too much influence to Brantley's commentary. Producers will decide on producing a show if they think it's good and if they think it can sell tickets. Comments about fashion and bare feet onstage will have little influence on the decision to move a star-driven classic.

My hope that Hamlet will come to Broadway is greater than ever. Grandage's Hamlet is a strong draw, despite Brantley's (real or conjured) lack of enthusiasm.

What does that have anything to do with taking Hamlet to Broadway?

I have read from some theater blogs that the problem may lie in the supporting cast not on Law.

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