In a Word . . . Critic

A favourite Brendan Behan quote concerns critics, of whom he was not a lover. They were, he said, "like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves".

Sadly, I've never been in a harem. I am not a eunuch, though there are those long spells when I might as well be. But I have been a critic. I was theatre critic for the Irish Press newspaper from 1990 until it closed down in 1995 – an unrelated event!

I was also eminently qualified. In my college years in Galway I spent so much more time with the Drama Society (Dramsoc) rather than in the library. Recommended.

As for acting, I was terrible. No less than college contemporary Garry Hynes told me I had no stage presence. I was a mediocre director, moderately useful backstage, and most noteworthy for being disruptive at committee meetings. My talent was already clear.

But, my cum laude moment in the critic qualification stakes happened in my first year at then UCG, now renamed NUI Galway, when I was persuaded to co-direct that awful medieval morality dirge, Everyman.

Its only appeal lay in its brevity, about 20 minutes long, and it has about as many cast, 17 if memory serves.

Auditions for Everyman took place next door to where Garry Hynes was casting her first play, Brian Friel's The Loves of Cass Maguire. A student who auditioned for one of the 17 roles in Everyman was another first year, Marie Mullen.

I turned her down. She was not suitable to be Fellowship, Cousin, Kindred, Goods, Good Deeds, Knowledge, Beauty, Strength, Discretion, any one of the Five Wits, God, Death, or Everyman. To mention a few

Rejected, she went next door to where Garry cast her as lead in The Loves of Cass Maguire. Both would go on to conquer the known world, many times over, with the Druid theatre company which they founded. I, became a critic.

When, in those later years, angry people would ask me what qualifications I had to be a critic anyhow, I’d tell them that story. Generally, no further explanation was necessary . It was an “interesting” five years.

More next week.

Critic, from the Latin criticus; Greek kritikos, one capable of judging. From krites (judge)

inaword@irishtimes.com

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