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May 9, 2010

Good Writing in the Service of Opinion

Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington on being a print critic in the digital age:

while print still matters, technology has democratised debate. Since I've always argued that a review is not a Mosaic tablet but a way of starting a discussion, I welcome that. But I'd like to nail one myth that is rapidly gaining ground: that, in the pre-internet era, newspaper readers were simply passive consumers. I seem to have spent much of the last 40 years responding to letters which challenged my views, nailed my inaccuracies or even, on one occasion, suggested I be horsewhipped. And, when I once rashly suggested that Shaw was second only to Shakespeare as an English language dramatist, I unleashed a debate in the correspondence columns that went on for weeks. What's changed is that any opinion is now open to instant rebuttal. But don't kid yourself that, even in the days of snail-mail, criticism was a cushy number in which our knuckles went unrapped.

The Stage survey also raises the question of why people still savour the print-merchants. I'd argue it's not just for what we say: it's for how we say it. Opinions are two a penny. What's damnably difficult is to write well; and, for me, there is still a personal challenge every night in trying to set down my views in 45 minutes with any degree of lucidity. And, when I dip into the critics of the past, it is less fortheir views on the event than for their style. Hazlitt's reportorial vividness, Shaw's polemical vigour, Tynan's voluptuous ease: these are the things that matter even when they are writing about long-dead plays. And today, even though I'm not a Daily Mail reader, I always turn to Quentin Letts in Theatre Record because he knows how to write.
May 9, 2010 6:12 AM | | Comments (0)

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