One Small Voice: Lyn Gardner

Published on 26 December 2017

Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for the Guardian newspaper, shares how reviews can help build a more mature arts scene.

Interview by Pamela Ho

If there is one thing I’ve learned over more than 30 years of writing about theatre, it’s that a strong artistic culture and a thriving critical culture walk hand in hand. Artists are spurred into making better and more adventurous and more diverse work when they are in dialogue with critics who love an art form, have a wide-ranging knowledge about it, and are keen to help nudge that art form on.

Theatre has plenty of gate-keepers already, and I don’t see it as my job to add an extra layer of gate-keeping. I’d prefer to think of what I do as midwifery: helping the baby emerge blinking into the world. Young and emerging artists often need a bit of a helping hand, particularly if they are taking risks in terms of content and form.

I reckon there is a danger that when faced with new forms, critics can sometimes take fright and run. But it’s often the shows that take you outside of your comfort zone that turn out to be the most interesting, and often the most enduring too. I never ask the question: is that theatre? The far more interesting question is: what is it that theatre might be? Artists and critics can dream that together.

When I came to Singapore in 2016, I found a small, young arts scene, full of talent and possibility, but one in which critical conversation was still limited. In a small community, it is sometimes harder to write criticism that is useful because of fear of offending. But critics can kill with kindness. That doesn’t mean you have to write in a waspish fashion, but you can try to observe and write about work in a way that makes artists think harder about their practice and the choices they are making and encourages them to keep challenging themselves and audiences.

I’ve no doubt that it’s only to the good that there are so many writers and bloggers in Singapore trying to interrogate theatre. Once upon a time, writing about theatre was the privilege of just a few; now many can join in the conversation on many different platforms. The broader and livelier that conversation, and the more diverse those voices, the better it is for theatre and an evolving theatre culture. An art form that is widely talked about and written about is an art form that has no need to worry that it might be a dying art form.

Lyn Gardner writes about theatre for UK publications, the Guardian and The Stage. She has written 14 novels for children and is the recipient of the 2017 UK Theatre Award for outstanding contribution to British theatre, and the 2017 Total Theatre award for significant contribution to UK theatre. Catch Gardner in a public forum, Theatre Reviews: Last Word or the Start of a Conversation, at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival on 28 January, Centre 42, 3pm.

EXPERT TIPS - Write This Way

Photo: iStock

Remember when writing a review that you are not doing an exam. There is no right or wrong answer. You are simply responding to what you have seen.

Be honest and heartfelt in your response. Dishonesty does a disservice to both yourself and the artists whose work you are reviewing.

See as much theatre as you can, and the widest possible range of theatre, so that you learn the vocabulary of many different forms.

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