By Fiona Leckerman
There is something particularly NotFunny about distinguished theatre critic John Nathan’s follow-up article in this week’s Jewish Chronicle attacking Gary Sinyor’s play, NotMoses. It may have had largely mixed reviews – leaning more towards bad than good – but there’s no need to be outright ugly.
Mr Nathan’s review was the harshest I have read in a long time. Suffice to say he did not like the production and, as the newspaper’s long-standing theatre critic, it is his job to give honest opinion – lest the Jewish paying public waste an evening and their money on substandard fare.
Job done, John.
But not content to proffer his opinion, he penned a further scathing attack on the production and asked the question: should we blindly support Jewish-themed theatre independent of whether it is good or bad, just because it’s Jewish?
It is a reasonable question and a challenge I faced when writing my review of NotMoses for Jewish News.
Unlike Mr Nathan, I only review Jewish-themed productions. I’ve sat through my fair share of shockers, but have never felt it necessary or appropriate to file two bad reviews of one show. The article Mr Nathan wrote this week simply seeks to justify his reasoning behind his first review – dare his readers disagree.
The role of a critic is not easy. We have to give honest and instant appraisal of productions that can take years to write, fund and produce.
How many solely Jewish written, produced and themed plays make it to the West End? It is difficult to sit among an audience roaring with laughter and find things to criticise and there is always an element of sadness when you see potential in a play that doesn’t meet expectations – as is the case with NotMoses.
It would have benefited from more previews and tighter direction, but there some strong gags and it’s an enjoyable night out. Sometimes audiences just want to be entertained and writers like Sinyor want to make them laugh, which he does.
Yes, NotMoses is niche. Yes, it absolutely doesn’t deserve any comparisons to the likes of Monty Python. But it also does not deserve to be the focus of Mr Nathan’s vitriolic views on all Jewish theatre.
Theatre is a people’s pastime and critics are there to give guidance. It is up to the reader to form his or her own opinion. If it differs a reviewer should be gracious enough to accept it, not launch into a patronising polemic about how Jews will instinctively support Jews irrespective of the quality of work. We might, but Mr Nathan should allow us the intelligence to make up our own minds.