Monday, March 14, 2011

A Chatroom of Critics with Mark Shenton

A Chatroom of Critics with Mark Shenton, at ACT Writers’ Centre, March 13, 2011

An Unreview by Frank McKone

Mark Shenton is a full-time theatre critic and journalist, writing a weekly review column for the Sunday Express and daily blog for The Stage. He has hosted regular platforms at the National Theatre, including an onstage interview with Stephen Sondheim. He has written liner notes for a number of original cast albums, including the West End recording of Chicago. Mark was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, came to London when he was 16 and has never looked back. He read law at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and now lives in Borough, five minutes from the South Bank (accessed 13 March 2011)

Mark is also Chair of the Drama Section of The Critics’ Circle, based in London but with members from all over the UK.  He has a special passion for cabaret, in common with Canberra’s Bill Stephens who invited him to call in for an informal chat with the Canberra Critics’ Circle en his route between Melbourne and Sydney.

Though we reviewers give awards to the best artists, which means in London that the Drama Awards are presented in a major theatre and attract “everyone” in the theatre industry, there was consensus that the best critics, whoever they are, should not receive awards.  This is why my report of a very entertaining couple of hours is not a review.

In fact it became clear that critics may not receive any rewards in the near future.  Mark commented on the decline in newspaper sales as blogging and tweeting become the new outlets for critical commentary.  Unless the Murdoch paywall approach is taken up by many other publishers, who will pay professional critics to blog?

Indeed, what is a professional critic?  To be accepted as a member of The Critics’ Circle you must have a history of paid-for reviews over at least the previous two years.  But when even a London newspaper reviewer writes, as Mark reported to us, about “blacking up” Iago in an argument against “political correctness”, I had to wonder who killed Othello?  As newspapers struggle financially who will they pay to write reviews?  Not the writers with experience and detailed knowledge of their specialist art forms, apparently.

Should reviews be mere entertainments?  And therefore short?  Of course not, but we discussed the difficult skill of writing briefly to the point, rather than boringly too long.  Which means I will cut the several dozen other topics we discussed, even though this is an Unreview, and thank Mark Shenton for giving us a sense of what it is like to be a freelance reviewer in a city where 55 new shows opened in January, a low season in London’s theatrical year.

The success of this evening suggests finding further visitors for future Canberra Critics’ Circle self-improvement occasions.  Please contact Helen Musa at CityNews with ideas: .

To catch up with Mark Shenton, check his blog in The Stage at