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Shouts and Murmurs – April 23, 2024

Hello, and welcome to Shouts And Murmurs, a weekly email for paid supporters of The Crush Bar, written by me, Fergus Morgan.

Every week, I round up the best theatre writing elsewhere – reviews, interviews, opinion, long-reads – plus any other interesting theatre-related stuff I find. For now, I’ve decided to stick with my strategy of letting free subscribers read the top section, but saving the best stuff for paid supporters by putting a paywall halfway down. That’ll be £5/month or £50/year, please.

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This week: the bad, the worse and the worst of theatre criticism; a look at the reviews of London Tide at the National Theatre, Machinal at the Old Vic, Love’s Labours Lost at the RSC, two literary adaptations in Scotland, and more; some more links you should click on.

Thanks for reading The Crush Bar, as always. If you want to do me one more favour, then you can share this newsletter far and wide and encourage others to subscribe via the button below.

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Previously in The Crush Bar:

The lows, lowers and lowest of theatre criticism.

Theatre critics were in the news for several disturbing reasons this week. Firstly, and only mildly disturbingly, a conversation about the use and abuse of reviews in marketing material sprang up after the Broadway musical Lempicka took a creative approach to quoting The New York Times’ critics Ben Brantley and Jesse Green: they simply took two words from different paragraphs and shoved them together. Twice.

The anecdotes that ensued made for entertaining reading.

Some examples are more imaginative than others: The Old Vic should give its marketing officer a raise for pulling the ol’ Legend trick with Machinal, for example.

Secondly, and more disturbingly, The Toronto Star ran a story about two theatre companies sharing quotes about their shows lifted from articles in BNN Breaking, a Hong Kong-based news aggregator that almost certainly used AI to write them.

In fairness, both theatre companies were not aware that the quotes were AI-generated and promised to do better in the future. There is a wider conversation here, though, isn’t there? About when and how it is appropriate to use AI in promoting a show? After all, there are only two salaried critics in Toronto and marketers gotta market.

Thirdly, and most disturbingly, The Spectator theatre critic Lloyd Evans wrote one of the most astonishing articles I have ever read, and not in a good way. In brief: he went to Cambridge for a lecture, objectified the lecturer, visited a sex worker, imagined a genuine intimacy with her, then wrote about it. What elevates it from pathetic to outright execrable is that he thought he would name both women in his article.

I won’t go into this atrocity too much – Mic Wright has you covered there – but I will simply point out that this man regularly gets given free theatre tickets by some of our major theatres, and echo playwright and scholar Dan Rebellato’s thoughts on the matter:

I am thinking about starting a new bit where I always end these top sections with a awkwardly contrived plea for you to become a paid supporter of this newsletter. I imagine this week’s begging letter is less contrived than those of future issues.

You value theatre critics that keep tabs on the misuse of their reviews by marketers, are not AI-generated (as far as they know), and spend their spare time doing crosswords and climbing big hills instead of doing whatever the hell it is Lloyd Evans does? Well, why don’t you put your hand in your pocket and pay them then?!

Free subscribers to The Crush Bar receive these emails every Friday. Paid supporters also receive Shouts and Murmurs on Tuesdays.

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