The Role of the Critic

Poet, Writer and Theatre Bristol Reviewer Bella Fortune has been asked to participate in Louise Ahl’s upcoming performance Intercourse as part of the Ausform Micro-Fest Double Bill. For the final 5 minutes she will deliver her words on the role of the critic. Here is a blog from Bella on her thought processes whilst preparing this contribution.


When Hannah got in touch to ask me to speak about my role as a critic in Louise Ahl’s (Aka The Ultimate Dancer) Intercourse I didn’t so much jump at the chance but gratefully, and a little warily, stepped up. I fell into reviewing like a toddler falling into a bath of sweets (if such a thing has ever happened, I’m sure it has.) That is to say, initially, all I could see were positives; I get to write about shows, that I get to see for free, and people might read what I write…Sweet! But pretty soon the sugar rush started wearing off and I began questioning if all these treats were really good for me.

As a critic you open up your words, your views and yourself to be criticised. I had a taste of this at a talk earlier this year that questioned the role of the reviewer. The group of writers and practitioners were split in their views on the importance of written reviews while some questioned the ego of the reviewer and what right they might have to write. The answer seemed obvious to me and is one that can be applied to many other confrontations. What gives bloggers the right to blog? What makes comedians think they can try to make us laugh? What gives anyone the authority to vote? – Because they can.

Although I have done my fair share of critiquing I don’t consider myself to be a critic. To paraphrase one of TBW’s head-honcho’s Mr Wainwright: “at TBW we are artists responding to other artists.” So I suppose I am a responder, or just a response, like all other audience members. I see something, I respond; just another constituent of a much wider discourse. The only difference being that I re-evaluate my response to convert it from thoughts and conversation into a, hopefully, readable few hundred words.

I reassess my choice to review with every review I write. It is a choice. I could cease at any time and while the free seats play a part in my choice to continue the first and foremost reason is that I want to write. I see a life in words and reviewing is a chance to test this sight.

So what can I write to say at Intercourse? For a piece I have never seen but have been told “wants to represent voices of the audience, the artist and the critic”? I trust the middle woman who made this opportunity come about for me but I do not know what I am following. It could be a scathing comment on the uselessness of critics. It could be a mockery. It could totally contrast how I feel or compliment my words to the point of repetition. I am aware that my piece is part of a performance; The Ultimate Dancer is the performer, I am an accompaniment, the mint at the end of a meal. I am aware that I will be both watching and speaking in front of an audience. As a performer I am aware of wanting to entertain, of not wanting to bore, so…

A poem of course! One just appeared, fell out of my fingertips as they often do, spewed onto the screen as a result of thinking about all of the sweet treats I have consumed. To hear it you’ll have to get your ticket for Double Bill on Friday 28th November, but in the meantime please remember; it is fine to critique the critic if you feel you must, but, it’s never any use to shoot the messenger.

Double Bill
Intercourse by Louise Ahl/Ultimate Dancer and Cosas by Alma Soderberg
Friday 28th November
The Trinity Centre
7.30pm (Doors at 7pm)
Book here

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