You have to pity the London crrrritics. Just as the spat over Nicholas Hytner's full-frontal attack reached an uneasy detente, AA Gill reached for the cutlery and did some comprehensive mincing of his own. Gill, the notoriously waspish food critic for the Sunday Times, accused the critics of dressing badly, demanding aisle seats like spoilt children and being "moribund, joyless [and] detached". Worst of all, they write with a "uniform, dank sogginess". Where, asks Mr Gill, "are the voices that ring out as being aesthetically intelligent, passionate, current and, most important, entertaining?"
As the Guardian's Lyn Gardner comments in a spirited defence of her profession, it reads rather as if Mr Gill is suggesting himself as the Man for the Job. And, as she often does, Gardner puts her finger on the real problem that bedevils mainstream theatre criticism: lack of space.
What has happened is that theatre criticism has been squeezed in terms of length. When I first arrived at the Guardian, reviews were around 600 words; now I seldom get to write more than 300. Style doesn't have a great deal of room to swagger in such conditions, although by style I suspect that Gill really means the flip, cynical wit which characterises his own TV and restaurant reviews and which is so beloved by editors. Don't get me wrong, they're a great read, clearly written - like his article on theatre criticism - with provocation in mind. But in my experience only the direst theatre shows with no redeeming qualities lend themselves to that kind of waspish humour.
Quite right: artistic sledging is too often mistaken for discriminating taste, when in fact it's very often just a cop-out that appeals only to the little sadist within us all. (We all love a bit of schadenfreude.) It's very easy to be witty and superior at someone else's expense; much less simple to attempt to engage with a work on its own terms, and then, for good or ill, to write about that. Although I do agree with Gill that reviewing is itself a kind of performance, and has a duty to entertain.
Gardner suggests that Gill widen his field of vision, and look not only beyond the West End, but beyond print media. TN is a little chuffed (ok, very chuffed) to be named, with the reliably funny West End Whingers, as an "intelligently provocative" new voice entering the conversation through the web. And three cheers for Gardner, for at last pointing out that bloggers and mainstream critics can exist together, not in deadly rivalry, but as complementary voices in a wider and increasingly fascinating conversation.