Excerpt: ‘The Critic in the Episode “Break Ups”’, by Jana Perkovic


Photo by Marion Doss. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

1. in which the Critic is revealed to be a cynical arsehole

More than other art forms — except perhaps cinema — theatre contextualises relationships, because no other art is as suited to dates.

Indeed, there are many advantages of taking a prospective partner to the theatre, especially when one is a critic. First, the glamour of what for most people, is a rare and expensive treat. Second, immense tactical ground can be conquered by taking a date to an opening night: the canapés, the free booze, the greetings and kissings and casual introductions to an entire theatre industry. For the slightly exasperated theatre worker, this is just another evening spent at work. For the date, the combination of high art, buildings of cultural significance, and being introduced to people they have seen on TV (even if only in an advertisement or a minor role in Underbelly), is a serious portion of sexiness, effortlessly delivered. Plus, unlike book launches and gallery openings, theatre openings are sure to be fun. Most of the attendees, after all, are professional entertainers.

It is less known, but no less important, that taking a prospective partner to witness a work of art shines a helpful light into their psyche, like an early warning of troubles to come. Traumas that may take years of ordinary, uneventful existence to come to the fore, may erupt in the theatre on the second date.

Let's take Karen.

Not even a disgruntled critic would walk out on a date night.

The first crack in the tentative romance appeared after the Critic took Karen to see August: Osage County, Pulitzer-winner by Tracy Letts. It was a rather dim production, whose only intervention into the play was to illuminate its shortcomings, and the Critic patiently bided her time thinking about shopping lists and masturbation. Not even a disgruntled critic would walk out on a date night. Karen, unfortunately, was greatly moved by the entire affair. The two left the theatre in vastly diverging moods — the Critic rethinking her career choices, Karen moved and vulnerable.

Here we arrive to the perilous moment so well known to theatre workers, so poorly understood by their dates: the aftermath of a bad show. For those who see theatre for work, multiple nights a week, bad shows are an ordinary and unremarkable fact of life. Like heatwaves, blackouts, random and unprovoked cuts to arts funding, this does not make them less worth complaining about, but allows for a certain facile, routine dismissal. When theatre is attended four, five, ten times a week, and on industry concessions, there is no investment in liking everything. And the more professional the theatre worker is, the more it becomes a matter of personal integrity to call a dud a dud…

… all of which is a long-winded plea for mercy for the Critic, as we return to the situation that unfolded outside the theatre, in which Karen said, with a shaky voice:

“That was so beautiful. Thank you for taking me.”

And the Critic said:


This column appears in full in The Lifted Brow 27. Get your copy now.

Jana Perkovic is a theatre nerd. Her writings on theatre and dance appear in The Guardian, RealTime and on guerillasemiotics.com.