When I posted my blog on Monday about London’s unsung theatrical heroes, one of those I named wrote to thank me — but quipped, “Damn, I thought for a moment I’d made it onto your ‘best hung theatre personalities 2010’ list.”
Now I know that I recently wrote here about critics getting too personal in reviews, following the furore that engulfed Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times for his characterisation of the Sugar Plum Fairy in a New York City Ballet production of The Nutcracker having consumed too many sugar plums herself, but as Michael Coveney suggested in his blog on Tuesday, “A performer gets on a stage and performs. With heart, mind and body. All three are fair game for critics, and being rude or not simply doesn’t come into it. What an actor, or a dancer, looks like is what critics write about.”
And if a performer goes naked, it should, to follow this reasoning, be fair game for their particular attributes to be commented on, too.
Critics, of course, often do, particularly if the performer doesn’t exactly measure up, so to speak. I have previously written here how Mark Lawson once commented adversely on Ian Holm’s manhood when he appeared naked during the storm scene in a National Theatre production of King Lear, and Holm replied in his autobiography that the comments have “stayed with me, so I suppose they must have hit some kind of nerve.” But Holm gets his revenge: “Even disregarding Lawson’s own physical shortcomings (the liver lips, the pudgy plasticine face, the old man’s prematurely balding dome), I am not convinced that his no doubt enormous cock would not also have dwindled after a cold bath in front of several thousand people.”
Ian McKellen, playing the same role for the RSC (and likewise stripping), on the other hand drew this admiring, even slavering, review from New York critic Michael Portantiere, in which he noted, “Special note for those who care about such things: In a brief nude scene, McKellen amply demonstrates the truth of Lear’s statement that he is ‘every inch a king’.” No wonder that Derek Jacobi, now playing the role for the Donmar, has publicly declared in an interview with Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph: “I can’t compete!!”, and so he doesn’t try and remains fully clothed during that scene.
When Daniel Radcliffe, the Harry Potter film wizard, famously showed his own personal wand as he made his stage debut in the lead role of Equus that involved a prolonged nude scene, he told the New York Times when he reprised the role there that he suffered from what he called Michelangelo’s David Effect, and said that David “wasn’t very well endowed, because he was fighting Goliath. There was very much of that effect. You tighten up like a hamster. The first time it happened, I turned around and went, ‘You know, there’s a thousand people here, and I don’t think even one of them would expect you to look your best in this situation.’”
Nicholas de Jongh, then theatre critic of the Evening Standard, however clearly expected more, declaring that “never in modern times has such excitement been stirred by the prospect of viewing a very few inches of adolescent male flesh”.
read on via The Stage / Shenton’s View / The full monty.….