Pains Of Youth
Lyttelton Theatre, London SE1
Opened 28 October, 2009

As I’ve remarked before, the time-lag between a particular opening night and the corresponding issue of Theatre Record can result in strange dislocations, such as reviews of a major West End show appearing after the production’s run has been cut short.  There’s a semi-example of that in the current issue: the “More on previous productions” pages at the back include reviews of Con O’Neill’s appearance in Prick Up Your Ears, replacing Matt Lucas who left the production following his ex-civil partner’s suicide.  Unfortunately, O’Neill’s arrival was not enough to buoy up the production’s box office, and it closed on November 15.  But how much more complicated things become when Theatre Record itself is an element in an ongoing story…

Last issue I commented at some length on various errors and controversial views by Tim Walker in his Sunday Telegraph reviews.  I’ve noted before that Tim has stated his determination to be revenged on me, and on Mark Shenton, who occasionally makes similar comments on his blog on The Stage web site.  I remarked in Issue 07 this year on previous pointed comments made by Tim about fat people as a way of getting at Mark and myself (although Mark has trimmed down enviably in recent months).  In a review reprinted in Issue 05, Tim wrote about his sudden change of heart in refusing to apply for membership of the Critics’ Circle (of whose Drama section Mark is chairman and I am secretary), comparing his own stance with resistance to Nazism.


And then on 8 November, Tim devoted fully half of his coverage of Pains Of Youth to a diatribe about the size of the person sitting behind him in the theatre.  That person was me.  Now, to be sure, I’m very fat indeed, but all Tim’s allegations about physical contact are entirely untrue, and I strongly suspect physically impossible.  I’m not wounded by the insults: I’ve been fat almost all my life, so I was used to mockery and abuse by the age of eight or so, and most of that mockery was more sophisticated than Tim’s.  But read that review, and marvel at two things: one, it was written by a grown man; two, it was published by a quality national newspaper.  The Sunday Telegraph’s arts editor either actively passed that copy as being of suitable relevance and quality for the paper, or else doesn’t care enough to check his columnists’ writing.  As far as I know, six of my fellow critics – including Paul Taylor, quoted opposite, and Rhoda Koenig – have written to the paper in protest at Tim’s remarks.  He seems to believe that this is ipso facto evidence of an orchestrated campaign against him; it doesn’t seem to occur to him that there might simply be that many people who felt spontaneously and actively disgusted by his comments.  (For the record, there has been no such campaign.  Also for the record, I wasn’t on Financial Times duty that night, and left at the interval due to illness.)

But where does the aspect of scheduling enter this frankly pathetic saga?  Well, here’s the thing: Tim wrote that review before the last issue of Theatre Record was published.  So it can’t have been my sustained criticism of various of his writings in that issue that goaded him to such a personal response.  At most, it can only have been my brief remark about his musings on Inherit The Wind in Issue 20.  I wrote last issue that I felt somewhat embarrassed and guilty at addressing one writer so persistently, but now Tim has retrospectively justified my stance.  So, if he’s now seen Issue 21, what can we expect him to launch at me in a future column?

[Footnote: well, the rest is history...]

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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