Theatre critic Mark Shenton, Londoner #185

I think critics are a necessary evil for the arts community. We need, they need somebody to hold them to account. And it’s a question of how you do that. For me going to the theatre is always exciting. I always go with my heart full of anticipation. I always want it to succeed. Being a critic involves, I think, a lot of responsibility. And it’s not something I take lightly at all. Here we are, standing in judgement over people’s careers and lives. I read law at Cambridge, but always wanted to write about the theatre. Of course, theatre is a dead man’s shoes business. Where the critics, you have to wait for them to die before you get a job. The challenging aspects of being a theatre critic of course, are seeing terrible shows. But you always have to remember that you’re only watching it for two hours. The poor actors have invested the last six weeks putting it together. And the writer has probably spent the last two years writing it. Diana Rigg, the actress, once did a wonderful collection of stories from actors of their worst ever reviews. There’s an old time actor called Simon Ward who’s since passed on. And he told her that the worst review he got was, he was described as looking like a permanently perplexed Ann Widdecombe. And as she said it, I thought: fuck, I wrote that line. My passion and inspiration for being a theatre critic is that I am a self-confessed theatre addict. And this is the very best way of getting the addiction fed and paid for. Of course you have to speak your own version of the truth and I always say there’s no such thing as right and wrong in theatre criticism. It’s always a matter of opinion. And one opinion is no more valid than another, you might say. My hardest critic is me. I’m a very self-critical person. So, I suppose it’s in the DNA of a critic to be critical. And I’m often very harsh on myself. You look forward to everything in the theatre. Maybe not by the time you’ve seen the fifth King Lear of the year, but even then you often look forward to: what will this actor make of it?

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