Criticism past

Chairing this historical session, Ian Herbert cited the 1913 edition of Who’s Who in the Theatre (of which he is a former editor, as well as founder editor of Theatre Record) as listing no fewer than 50 newspaper theatre critics, including regular contributors to journals such as Sporting Life, their listing considered as relevant as that of performers.

The first main speaker was Frances Hughes, Chair of the Irving Society and theatre historian. She talked of critics such as Bernard Shaw and his very different successor on the Saturday Review Max Beerbohm, men with a passion for theatre, and Shaw’s great hero the actor Barry Sullivan. From a very early age Max was taken to the theatre and among artistic and social circles by his elder half-brother, the actor Beerbohm Tree, and Frances posited that for many of us get the theatre bug by the time we are about 13.

She went on to speak of Grein, who started the Independent Theatre Society some time before the Circle, to enable plays to be presented outside the Lord Chamberlain’s authority, and of the plays then banned such as Ibsen’s Ghosts and Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession and the attitudes of critics to them.

The theme of censorship was taken up by Nicholas de Jongh, former theatre critic of The Guardian and the Evening Standard and author of books on the subject, pointing out that few critics were on the side of the abolitionists.