PROMPT CORNER 25–26/2009
The Misanthrope / Jack And The Beanstalk
Various venues
December, 2009

[...] Another curious division appears in reviews of The Misanthrope.  To put it baldly, women tend to be more critical of Keira Knightley than men.  This has been the case not just in the reviews reprinted here, but also in the various discussions I’ve had about the production.  I’d love to be able to explain this phenomenon.  It doesn’t seem to be that male critics are blinded by her beauty (I can testify for myself and at least one other critic, who knew nothing of her screen work and was rapidly won over by her stage performance), nor female ones jealous of it.  To a certain extent, her thinness seems to be an issue, which in turn bears on definitions of beauty, “body fascism” and so forth.  What we do seem to agree on is that she improves after a hesitant first scene, and is at her best when holding court as the film star she both is and portrays in Martin Crimp’s version of Molière’s play.  As for the final paragraph of Paul Taylor’s review, I make no comment.

And we do, try as we might, employ different standards for Christmas shows (whatever we decide they may be).  I’m sure none of us failed to scratch our heads several times at the tonal and narrative mishmash of Jack And The Beanstalk at Hammersmith. (I still have no idea whatever how the pair of giant Caribbean snails fit in; even the explanation offered by Berwick Kaler at one point in his York panto, “There’s no logical reason for doing this, except that it’s funny,” didn’t hold in many of the Hammersmith instances.)  Yet a number of reviews indulge the show: it is, after all, the Lyric’s return to panto after 30 years, and it keeps old and young reasonably amused.  If you try to argue that “reasonably amused” isn’t a sufficient criterion even for overall entertainment value, you immediately start sounding earnest and humourless.  Oh, well: suffice to say that Hammersmith’s multi-authored script reminded me of the saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.  As for Pamela Anderson’s appearance at Wimbledon, some of us seemed to be striving hard not to recycle Johnny Carson’s introduction once on his TV chat show: “Ladies and gentlemen, here they are: Dolly Parton!”

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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