You can’t be a critic and a friend

What a lonely life a critic must lead! Especially in the circles that most interest him or her. For how could one remain unbiased or completely forthright if you had to critique a friend’s production?

I tend to have strong opinions about things – especially all things related to performing arts or film. I find it easy to critique a film because I am not remotely related to the production. But the theatre scene in different. I live in Malaysia, and the theatre scene here is very small. The local productions tend to be by the same general group of people – whether acting, producing, or directing. As a writer and playwright, I have enjoyed getting to know many of the fine people in the industry here, but I’ve come to realize that I can not longer be a critic in the circle where I frequent. This gives me mixed feelings.

I’ve seen some productions here which I have absolutely hated. I wanted with all my strength to lash out and inform the world that the theatre should not be able to endure such trash! But, I had to refrain. I may not have liked their work, but I don’t want to offend someone whom I might see and talk with from time to time. What a dilemma! Therefore, I have to remain silent.

I am, however, happy to give positive reviews to the shows that I enjoy. And I definitely do this, but I realize this doesn’t make me a critic.

A critic must remain unattached from the artists themselves. They are a medium of free speech. They must be able to say anything, whether they think something is brutally awful or wonderfully brilliant. They don’t make good friends within their circle of influence.

I have often been critical of critics. Sometimes they seem too self-absorbed as if their critique itself was the masterpiece and not the actual creative work.

But since living here, I have come to better appreciate the tightrope they have to walk. Their job is not an easy one, but it is an important one.

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