THEATRE CRITICS AT WAR
Part-time diarist, full-time fighter
Like so many of his errors, this is an embarrassment he could have spared himself by glancing at the programme for a couple of seconds. But Walker is far too busy for that. Besides his full-time day-job, editing the Telegraph’s Mandrake diary, he has a full-time hobby pursuing critics who expose his errors – notably Mark Shenton of the Express and The Stage, as well as Shuttleworth of the FT and Theatre Record. Early this year, when invited to join the Critics’ Circle, he was at first immensely flattered; but when he discovered who ran the drama section (chairman Mark Shenton, secretary Ian Shuttleworth) he changed his mind.
On 15 March, ostensibly reviewing The Berlin-Hanover Express, a play about Nazism, he lurched into this strange digression: “Whether we say what we think or confine ourselves to talking about what is deemed to be safe or inoffensive is one of the defining choices we make in life. If we don’t fight for an identity of our own then an identity will assuredly be imposed upon us. These thoughts have been uppermost in my mind lately as I have been agonising about whether to join the Critics’ Circle... I have decided to decline the invitation.” Thus he implicitly likened his gesture to resistance against the Nazis – a point emphasised when he drew attention to the “fat, sweaty” appearance of the main Nazi character in the play. It’s no coincidence that both Shuttleworth and Shenton are generously built.
The Critics’ Circle spat made it into The Stage, which quoted Shuttleworth as saying that although plenty of actors were paranoid about critics, “a paranoid critic is rather a novelty”. Walker retaliated in his review of Parlour Song at the Almeida on 5 April: “The theatre is not an especially welcoming place for fat people. It isn’t simply that the seats in most of the capital’s auditoriums can’t accommodate them – they were mostly designed at a time when no one could have foreseen the present obesity epidemic – but these individuals also have to see themselves portrayed on the stage in ways that are, to say the least, unflattering.”
‘Fatty started it!’
Not as unflattering as the comments made about Walker by his colleagues in the stalls, several of whom – including Paul Taylor and Rhoda Koenig of the Indie – sent letters of protest to Sunday Telegraph editor Ian MacGregor after the Giant Haystacks episode. Things turned even nastier on Michael Coveney’s Whatsonstage.com website where “Shutters” and “Wanker” had a riotously childish exchange of views, Walker at one point saying “Ooh, Fatty started it!”
Things were therefore awkward during the interval drinks at the National last week for the first night of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art. Shuttleworth and his gang stood on one side of the room while Walker (who had taken along his old Mail chum Rod Gilchrist to provide covering fire) stood on the other. Gilchrist, after a couple of glasses of free vino, bawled: “Tell me, Tim, which of those fat cunts over there keeps taking a pop at you?” At which point the National’s press officers moved between the two camps, fearing there was about to be a punch-up.
How dear, dear Larry would have loved it!
More top stories in the latest issue:
ST GEORGE LOWERS THE STANDARD…
Full round-up… from the runners and riders who didn’t get the editor’s job, to the charity love-in between one-time chancellor George Osborne and his new boss, Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev.
If you dish it out, you take it, insists Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. So why did his paper get so pre-emptively agitated over a new book about life at the Mail?
Attacks on Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford agitate Matthew Syed of the Times – but then he does have a new book out on the quest for sporting perfection.
SUN ECLIPSES ITSELF…
The Sun gives two very different views of the need for a second independence referendum in Scotland to readers north and south of the border.
Express owner Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond, trying to clear the decks for a sale, showers £50 M&S vouchers on hacks he wants to leave the pension fund.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE…
Why the Archant-owned Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury hasn’t printed a word about a price-fixing cartel among dodgy local estate agents.
NEWSQUEST GOES WALKABOUT
Having cashed in creating a subbing ‘hub’ in South Wales for its local English newspapers, Newsquest shifts the failed operation to, er, Dorset.