Theatrical Theology

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a delightful performance of Humperdinck’s opera, Hansel and Gretel, at my local theatre – the Courtyard in Hereford. As theatrical criticism isn’t my forte, I shan’t give a review here. The man charged with the responsibility of teaching me to write sensibly about the theatre failed spectacularly. Whether that was due to him or to me might perhaps, be a matter worthy of discussion. But if that is to happen, it will be on some future occasion.

Many actors, musicians, directors, authors and visual artists subscribe to the school of thought that says, “those who can, do, and those who can’t, criticise”. Although it is a good line, it is a foolish thought. Many critics have a profound knowledge of their subjects, and can, therefore, offer sensible views. When he was asked about thespians who don’t read their reviews, the late, great Sir Michael Hordern said, “I think it rather presumptuous of my fellow actors”.

Of course, just as no actor is perfect, no critic is perfect either. They can misread public taste by asserting that a show will either be a run-away success, or a complete flop, then the opposite happens. They can be unfairly harsh, or unduly flattering,, because of their feelings about a given actor or director. They can be intellectual snobs, lauding vertiginously high-brow plays, and sneering at anything popular. Or they can take themselves and their the theatre far too seriously.

When it comes to high-brow writing, though, the best comment I have come across was one I read earlier today. A play was described as being, “so incomprehensible that I didn’t even understand the interval”.

My favourite story about theatrical criticism is a lesson to all editors. Never tell a critic what to think.

A distinguished newspaper editor had a close friendship with a well-known playwright. When his friend’s latest play had its opening night, he sent his leading critic to review it. He made the mistake of assuming that the review would be favourable. It wasn’t.

Furiously, the editor sent the critic to a further performance, which again, received a negative review. Not even a third performance could illicit anything positive.

Eventually, the play was taken around the country. Determined to be able to print a positive review for his friend, the editor duly dispatch his critic to the provinces.

It so happened, that the night the latest review was to go to press, the paper was in the hands of the deputy editor. So the editor had, like the rest of the nation, to read the review at his breakfast table. It simply said, “Hebrews, Chapter 13, verse 8“.

Our editor knew enough to recognise that a biblical quotation was going to sum up the critics feelings, but wasn’t learned enough in matters scriptural to know where, precisely, he would find it. So having unearthed the family bible, he flicked through the pages of the Old Testament. No Hebrews. He rapidly turned the pages of the Apocrypha. No Hebrews there either. Then he turned to the New Testament, and found Saint Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. Turning to chapter 13, verse 8, he read: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

One response to “Theatrical Theology”

  1. I’m laughing. I love it.


    div dir=”ltr”>


    blockquote type=”cite”>

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: