Critic's Choice                               Kenneth Williams

A: Interviewer, B: Interviewee: “David Frost” (Not the real David Frost, of course, but Kenneth Williams.)    X sound: Critic's Choice.mp3  

A: Good evening, and welcome once again to Theatre Spotlight. Now, last week The Heron Dies, a new play by David Frost opened in London. The author is in the studio this evening to talk about it. Mr. Frost, how would you say your play has been received?

B: The Heron (Dies) has had a very mixed critical reception, ranging right from “disastrous” all the way up to “abysmal”. The (Daily) Telegraph found it “tedious”, The (Daily) Mail found it “insufferable” and The Express didn't find it at all - or rather, they found it and left after only seven minutes’ playing time. My writing has been variously described as “trite”, that's The (Daily) Telegraph again, “trivial”, that was Mr. Tynan’s word for it, and “effete” - The Evening News - was the nearest I got to a compliment – effete, effete, effete. Yes. The direction of the play, also by myself, is generally thought to be either “loose”, “weak” or “non-existent” and the playing of the leading role by my wife has been universally dismissed as “ludicrous”, so I think you can say we have had a pretty mixed bag.

A: Then you are very disappointed at this reception?

B: No, no I am not disappointed or rather, let me put it another way, I am disappointed. But it is a very difficult play to enjoy and I am not at all surprised that once again the critics have proved themselves incapable of appreciating my work.

A: And how has the public reacted to the piece?

B: The reaction of the general public has been extremely favourable. Those we have had in, have sat there very quietly and the bar sales have been out of this world.

A: Now, Mr. Frost when I passed the theatre this morning I noticed a great deal of activity going on outside.

B: Oh yes, that was the management, they were very busy plastering up all the favourable notices which the play has received.

A: But I thought you said it has been universally condemned.

B: Well, that is true, but we managed to salvage one or two excerpts from the reviews that we feel will take, take the public in (!) - draw - the public in. Yes, you may have noted that one: “This play lasts three hours”, The Evening Standard, that will appeal, you see, to people who like to get their money’s worth. And then there is “What an evening in the theatre!”, remember that one, Daily Herald ? Oh yes. “What an evening in the theatre!”, yes. We had to cut out the word “atrocious”, we didn't feel it was fulfilling any useful purpose, so we put a few exclamation marks in instead. And then there was “Mr. Frost has a hit”, (The) Daily Telegraph.

A: Oh, The Daily Telegraph thought it was a hit?

B: No, that's an extract from a longer sentence that Mr. Darlington wrote: “Mr. Frost has a hit-and-miss approach to the theatre which I find utterly exasperating.” Then there was: “A feast of impeccable acting”, (The) News Chronicle.

A: But surely, The News Chronicle has gone out of existence!

B: Exactly, that is nearly a reconstruction of what we feel Mr. Allan Dent would have written had the paper been alive.

A: Now, Mr. Frost there was one other notice which attracted my attention this morning, the one by Harold Hobson.

B: Oh yes, I’m very glad you mention that - one of our better efforts, yes : “An evening of incomparable theatrical splendour. Lovely performance by Stella Frost, haunting, human, hilarious. I shall go again and again and again.” Oh yes, we are very proud of that one.

A: Mr. Frost, I read The Sunday Times review and as far as I can remember, he said that it was one of the most distressing evenings he had ever spent in the theatre.

B: That is true. Mr. Hobson didn't appear to enjoy the play at all. But as you know, these critics have to write their pieces in a great hurry. They have to work to a deadline, you know. And quite often I think they say things they don't really mean at all. That's the charitable view of it, anyway. So, here we have taken the liberty of extracting individual letters from Mr. Hobson's original review and putting them together more carefully than he would have had time to do.

A: But surely, that is a gigantic distortion of the truth!

B: That is correct, it’s gigantic.

A: Do you mean to say, you are quite deliberately setting out to deceive the public by twisting the critic's words to suit your own purposes?

B: That is the plan.

A: Well, Mr. Frost I can only say I am utterly disgusted at your behaviour and I think your play is the most boring rubbish ever to reach London.

B: Thank you. May I quote you on that?                                              Kenneth Williams: