A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

letters
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

LETTER FROM ANTHONY AKERMAN (article first published : 2002-04-8)

Although Paul Slabolepszy and Bill Flynn have held out an olive branch to the Durban critics and Billy Suter has – for a second time – announced his intention to ring down the curtain on this debate, I would like to add a few thoughts.

Some valid points have been raised since Tim Wells first spoke out. This initially elicited a veiled threat from Mike Tarr. Didn’t Tim Wells want to work in this town any more? It is outrageous that a critic so openly threatens an artist’s ability to earn his living. It’s small wonder the view was expressed in various quarters that Mike Tarr and Billy Suter were out of their depth and would be doing many people a favour if they looked for alternative employment. The exchange became acrimonious and personal.

This is understandable, but not always helpful. Mike Tarr and Billy Suter have done little more than defend themselves against the criticisms levelled at their reviews. Their rebuttals have been largely unconvincing. I’ll cite one example as it concerned Comrades Arms. Billy Suter was not amused by this farce. Fair enough, but in his review he failed to report that most other people in the audience were laughing. I said that in this way he gave the impression that no one would enjoy the play. In response he wrote that opening night audiences “comprise a good percentage of rent-a-crowd: family, friends and colleagues of the cast and/or production team.” Does he honestly believe that out-of-town shows would bus their supporters in from Johannesburg? Besides, most people who know anything about theatre know that opening-night audiences are notoriously tough to play to.

He still feels he was right and I still feel he deliberately discouraged Durban audiences from attending the show. To Tim Wells he described his role as a critic as “some kind of watchdog for the reader.” When Paul Slabolepszy and Bill Flynn suggested that Durban critics compared notes before passing judgement, he wrote that he was capable of deciding independently “what I like or don’t like.” Parading personal likes and dislikes is hardly sophisticated criticism and is no guarantee that the reader has a reliable watchdog.

Most shows that open nowadays only open because the artists share in the financial risk. Taking a show on the road is a considerable risk and, I’m afraid, taking a show to Durban seems the biggest risk of all. Comrades Arms opened at the Sneddon Theatre after Not the Midnight Mass and Paul Slabolepszy’s Crashing the Night. All three out-of-town shows received reviews in the Daily News and The Mercury that had undertones of condescension and hostility. What was that all about? Did they assume we regarded Durban as a cultural backwater and did they decide to give us our comeuppance? We might have had good reviews elsewhere but we weren’t up to Durban standards! That’s the message we got and we certainly didn’t go there with attitude. To think of Durban theatre versus Jo’burg theatre is absolutely self-defeating. We only have South African theatre and at present it’s an endangered species.

Unless the dominant Durban critics rid themselves of parochial thinking, Durban will once again become the cultural backwater it was when I grew up there. Mike Tarr may be wondering whether I don’t want to work in his town any more. Well, frankly, no. I love Durban and I love my plays being performed there. But as long as Mike Tarr and Billy Suter wield such power in the press, believe in their infallibility and remain adherents of the laager mentality, Durban is off limits. This is not good for us and, as Paul Slabolepszy and Bill Flynn pointed out, it’s doing a disservice to Durban audiences. If this is what they wanted to achieve, they are truly successful crusading journalists.

Anthony Akerman, playwright and director (Comrades Arms).




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart