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LETTER FROM IAIN ROBINSON (article first published : 2007-12-9)

In response to the article entitled Lacking Direction by Claire Angelique published in the Sunday Tribune SM Theatre Review section dated December 9, 2007, the following:

A request for accountability from both publisher and author.

In the spirit of accountability and transparency that is frequently highlighted, by many if not all credible South African independent media sources, as a failing point in our young democracy, I request an explanation for the blatantly subjective and damaging “review” of the production of Guys and Dolls currently running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban.

In response to the article I offer the following:

How can a media source with as wide and diverse a readership as the Sunday Tribune boasts allow an article as obviously subjective and quite apparently self contradicting as this to be published?

It has often been observed that the power that an independent source such as this exercises over the mindset of its readership can be directly related to its contribution to a constantly struggling and relatively hard pressed theatre and entertainment industry such as Durban offers. With this in mind, can it in any way be deemed acceptable to allow anyone other then a qualified and recognized practitioner of the arts to put forward for public appraisal a review of any kind?

In the case of this article I ask for the credentials of the author to be qualified to lend justification, if any is to be had, to the damaging and at points insulting nature of the piece.

An obvious inaccuracy in the article occurs in the attempt by the author to put forward the overdone and stereotypical idea of “Africanising” the show in all of its aspects. The author then goes on to praise the choreographer for his “true-to-Broadway flamboyance”. Which is it to be? African or Broadway? This question in itself lends too much credence to this boring idea which the author vainly attempts to pass off as a concept both original and fresh. The show has been produced and accurately billed as a classic Broadway hit musical, done with the intention of honoring the original nature of the work. What, if any, would be the benefits of such an “Africanisation”? Surely it would understandably be seen as an obvious attempt to try to sucker an audience into believing the show represented a local context in any way, when it is quite apparently a musical representing a completely different time and place?

Quite beyond this weak attempt to seem insightful, the most insulting aspects of this piece are in the author’s appraisal of members of the production team. It is here that both the publisher and writer should be held accountable. Brave and motivated producer Bradley Marshall, recognized as a vital new contributor to a difficult and often unforgiving industry, is deemed “precocious”. Well known and respected performer and director Catherine Mace is described as “suffering from a lack of direction”. This, even from a recognized authority on theatre, would be difficult to justify. When it comes from a completely unknown and unqualified journalist it smacks of nothing more than ego and inflated opinion. Labeling the opening nights audience a bunch of “sycophants” further highlights the vicious nature of the entire piece. Who is this person and why has she been given the right to publicly insult people in this way?

As both a reader of the independent press and as a local practitioner of the arts I feel angered, hurt and depressed to think that this writer speaks with the voice of the Durban media.

I believe we need reviewers who are sensitive to the nature of the Durban arts scene, not people trying to win personality points, if we are to benefit in any way from a relationship with the press.

The saddest aspect of this whole infuriating scenario is that the damage has been done, the article has gone to print, and an entire company of professional performers now has to suffer as a result of one persons attempt at sounding knowledgeable.

This lends heavy weight to the argument that artists are those who CAN, while critics are those who WISH THEY COULD.

In all honesty, Iain Ewok Robinson. (email: whatkindekse@hotmail.com)

(Iain is currently performing in “Guys and Dolls”)




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