That monstrous crrrritic Ms TN gets a bit of what's coming to her in Crikey today. My spies tell me that Peter Craven has gone for the throat in a piece that attacks my recent overview of Joanna Murray-Smith's plays in the Australian. I have little to say in response: on the strength of what he says here, I expect Craven and I will never agree on what constitutes serious writing. But I will say that I thought my piece was in fact very fair: for instance, I clearly acknowledged Murray-Smith's achievements as well as my reservations about her writing.
Moreover, Craven himself has made a serious "category mistake": I was not asked to write a "profile", and neither did I "interview" Murray-Smith. I was asked to write a critical overview of the playwright, not a puff piece. And that is precisely what I did.
This is part of what Craven has to say:
It was astonishing to see the profile of Joanna Murray-Smith by Alison Croggon that was published in the Arts pages of The Australian on February 8. Croggon, the paper's Melbourne theatre critic, suggested that Murray-Smith (whose play, The Female of the Species, is being done in Brisbane) was a right-wing purveyor of soap, that her "anguish" was all a matter of upper-middle class aspirationalism, and that she was essentially a vapid, self-involved commercial hack who had turned her back on any form of artistic seriousness or political commitment -- Murray-Smith is the daughter of the left-wing intellectual and editor of Overland, Stephen Murray-Smith -- and that her comprehension of feminism (The Female of the Species plays on a famous incident where Germaine Greer was tied up by a young female intruder) was shallow and self-dramatising.
Murray-Smith's conflicts with Robyn Nevin, the former head of the Sydney Theatre Company, are presented as the real wellspring for her comedy's conflict between an older and a younger woman.
The overwhelming implication is that Murray-Smith is only concerned with motherhood issues in the pejorative sense because her work and her statements about it are so many walking cliches.
Croggon's piece is an odious piece of work and has caused widespread dismay. This so-called profile is an extraordinary case of poisoning the wells and it is also a category mistake. Alison Croggon has written a hatchet job opinion piece and served it up as a profile in a way that (if it were to set up a precedent) would make anyone apprehensive of an arts interviewer.
Reminds me of the good old days. Though I'd remind Craven there is plenty of precedent for this kind of thing. F'rinstance: Kenneth Tynan, Michael Billington, Robert Brustein, Eric Bentley...
One final point. In the fuller article, which gets a fair bit nastier - and is also wildly inaccurate insofar as my personal taste is concerned - Craven claims: "Alison Croggon can't stop herself from saying that the Australian playwright who vies with Joanna Murray-Smith in terms of how much his work is performed overseas is her own husband, Daniel Keene." If he had a better memory, Craven would realise that factoid comes, almost word for word, from an MTC press release for Murray-Smith's play Ninety (sent out at the beginning of the 2008 season). I don't in fact know how the precise figures divide between the two playwrights. He uses this to suggest that my criticism of Murray-Smith's work wholly stems from a competitive and personal agenda.
(In retrospect, it might have been wiser to ring the Australia Council and get the precise figures. But it hardly seemed worth the trouble, and I had a deadline. It is a detail that has already been widely reported, is merely a straight fact and is hardly promoting Daniel's interests. I would personally add - in the nicest possible way - that to be at once a theatre critic and married to one of the more significant Australian playwrights is more of a pain in the arse than anything else, since anyone who wants to smear your motives has a faecal missile ready to hand. In such moments, I remember that I am an artist first and a critic second, and that I am interested in the art of theatre, not its tawdry politics.)
And I reject Craven's insinuations absolutely. It's not personal, Peter: it's business. At least in this neck of the woods.