Jonathan Lovett’s Review of Death of a Nightingale – A Review or a Blackball? YOU JUDGE

  COMPARE & CONTRAST  

Miriam MargolyesA wonderful night, very moving — I learned about another world, which can be as cruel & cynical & as warm-hearted & surprising as my own. Don’t miss it, esp. if you’re a human being.

Len Parkin The Teacher: “Compelling, controversial and confrontational”

Kerra Maddern, Times Educational Supplement quarter page review of Rehearsed Reading at New End Theatre: “A searing tale of a fight to save SEN school which drove head teacher to brink of suicide”. TIMES ED totally ignored first night of Death of a Nightingale even though pupils from Oak Lodge Special School, East Finchley acted alongside professional actors and the head teacher of special school in Gateshead was present to answer questions.

THIS IS THE REVIEW BY JONATHAN LOVET PUBLISHED IN THE STAGE MAGAZINE

March 22nd, 2011

“Mainstream exposure should be denied this turgid drama lest it put the case for special schools back 30 years. More a lecture than an alleged “dramatic tour de force”, it uses two-dimensional characters as mouthpieces to extol the benefits of special needs education over inclusivity, in this tale of one such school’s fight against closure. Arriving at the same time as the government’s green paper on special needs schools, the topic is still a political hot potato and a worthy subject for debate. Unfortunately, Alan Share’s badly written, didactic play -full of platitudes such as “Everyone can achieve something in life with a helping hand” is more preachy than pertinent. It is a kind of anti-theatre, virtually untouched by any attempt at direction.

But what really grates is the patronising air throughout. The audience is spoonfed information without being challenged, rather like the children with learning difficulties who are brought out a handful of times and not given the chance to act or show what they are really capable of. Likewise, the characters are condescending stereotypes. They including an angelic blonde girl in a wheelchair who sings Tomorrow, the inspirational black teacher who teaches the kids negro spirituals, and the rotten English civil servant whose father served in the Punjab and laughs at shredding petitions from pleading parents.”

I would have forgotten this and ignored it altogether but for the fact that every time anyone Googles Death of a Nightingale this is one of the first things they see, if not the first ahead even of my own website. They do not see the very different reviews from Miriam Margolyes, and Kerra Maddern of Times Educational Supplement and of Len Parkin the Teacher on the home page of my website, not to mention that of Susan Elkins’ review of the rehearsed reading of the play in the STAGE magazine a year earlier.

What continues to rankle is that this review blackballs Death of a Nightingale in the Theatre world, given that it is the STAGE magazine where it is featured that is the mouthpiece for it.

So I began to ask some simple questions.

Who is Jonathan Lovett? Why was he chosen by the Stage to review the play? Did he have a personal, political axe to grind at the expense of the play?

Here, in this post, is the man.

I invite you to judge him by the standards he himself was happy to retweet. On 2 February 2012 Jonathan Lovett retweeted the following “journalism_manifesto – a pledge to ensure journalism is truthful, accurate and without favour to special interests”  …. even if you share his political stance.

The play, I should remind you is a polemic against Inclusion. This was a flagship policy of the Labour Party and maybe is still an article of faith of many of its supporters. It does not question that mainstream education is right for many children with special needs; it asserts however that special schools have merit too especially given the great diversity of those needs, and it flags up in the Programme Note http://goo.gl/IhMft how the policy was actually initiated and the sort of way the Government of the day set about trying to implement it. You may think – I certainly do so – that some people believe that you, especially  if you are a parent of a child with special needs, shouldn’t know all this.

Anyway here is the man. I invite you to read every line that follows.

Jonathan Lovett
@Jonathanslovett
Freelance journo. Currently writing a book, reviewing @TheStage and editing the union mag PCS People @pcs_union. Eats at Wimpy

n Love@
Don’t waste your vote, Eastleigh. Vote for Ray Hall of the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party @BeerBaccyCrumpt

Make This Your New Years Resolution http://bit.ly/WqYD9i – The Fastest Way To Lose Body-Fat in (2)-Weeks

Jonathan Lovett ?@Jonathanslovett
@les090543 Yep. Finished it! Thank the Lord. We must have a celebratory coffee soon. Doing a bit of full-time work at the union at the mo

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Plans to shut 39 DVLA offices – and axe 1,200 jobs – should halt after revelations that work is being sent abroad http://is.gd/Lsp1Sc #PCS
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Serwotka: “The vote shows we remain committed to resisting this government’s attacks on pensions, jobs and pay.”http://tinyurl.com/6mbeto8 #pcs
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett ?@Jonathanslovett
Give it up for Plan B http://bit.ly/Aemx4H

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
More people out of work means lower tax revenues and higher welfare costs. Chancellor borrowing more for failure. http://bit.ly/wpmioM #PCS
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Two days to get the vote out. Please RT this link to build the ‘yes’ vote in the pension ballot http://tinyurl.com/7bqkd32 #RTathon #YesYes#pcs
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett ?@Jonathanslovett
Is proud to be called a “Trotskyite” for protesting against unpaid forced labour

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Jobcentre union backs anti-workfare campaign against McDonalds -http://tinyurl.com/7vg4x35 #pcs
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Tomorrow is a Europe wide day of action against austerity – see how you can join in – http://tinyurl.com/6t8usuv #pcs #etuc #epsu #tuc #ictu
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Civil servants start voting in new #pensions ballot http://bit.ly/xu1azt #PCS#m28
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
28 March: Vote yes – All the information you need in one place -http://pcs.org.uk/yes #PCS
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Unions support forum on the right to protest http://tinyurl.com/6rfj3f7 #pcs#nus #ucu #cwu
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

NUJ ?@NUJofficial
#NUJ – Make home-time your deadline: finish on time on Work Your Proper Hours day this Friday: http://bit.ly/x01Rd3
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
How much is the government taking from you? Use the new #PCSpay and pension calculator and find out today – http://www.pcs.org.uk/pension
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

Neil Cafferky ?@neilcaff
On the worlds noisiest picket line this morn with #RMT Eurostar cleaners fighting for decent pay. Vuvuzelas ahoy! HOOOOONK!#strike
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett ?@Jonathanslovett
PCS, NUT, UNITE and others – calling a national strike on March 28. Fight the power…

Jonathan Lovett ?@Jonathanslovett
@barnet_unison Sending solidarity and respect to Barnet Unison strikers- from Jonathan + colleagues at PCS#supportbarnetstrikers9Feb

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Transport ministry workers stand together. Joint industrial action possible over cuts. http://tinyurl.com/8yl4vvc #pcs
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
PCS could ballot all the union’s transport ministry members for industrial action against cuts and privatisation. http://tinyurl.com/8yl4vvc #pcs
barnet_unison ?@barnet_unison

Exclusive short film UNISON on picket lines/protests with residentshttp://ning.it/iyN6XB #supportbarnetstrikers9Feb
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

barnet_unison ?@barnet_unison
#supportbarnetstrikers9Feb
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett ?@Jonathanslovett
Chris Huhne to be charged. Another Lib Dem bites the dust

NUJ ?@NUJofficial
#NUJ – Thompson Reuters journalists to strike for 48 hours over pay deal: http://bit.ly/zRaxOV
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
Solidarity with National Gallery workers who are about to walk out for the third time over staffing cuts http://tinyurl.com/7dlsmnq #pcs #davinci

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
212 MPs have been written to about the welfare bill using our letter. Can we get to 250 before the vote? http://tinyurl.com/6s5dxuq #pcs #wrb
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

PCS Union ?@pcs_union
The leader of the education union #NASUWT has restated her opposition to changes to the teachers’ pension schemehttp://tinyurl.com/77c57oe #pcs
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

NUJ ?@NUJofficial
#NUJ – #Newsquest staff start work-to-rule in #Essex: http://bit.ly/zB44ME
Retweeted by Jonathan Lovett

I should tell you that PCS Union is a Public Service Union and the fifth largest Union in the UK.

Well, I have had a tiny victory. When I brought all this to the attention of STAGE its editor, Brian Attwood, agreed to delist the first line of the review.
” I don’t think it’s his place to say a play shouldn’t be staged or suchlike. In fairness to him, the rest of his piece makes no such assertion, regardless of what he might or might not think ideologically.

He criticises the production for what he sees as its faults as a production/play and that he’s at liberty to do.”

I invited him to read the play – it is easy to access by downloading it on my website or in Kindle – and see live extracts from the play on the home page of my website – and I invite you here to do the same. I asked him whether he thought Jonathan Lovett’s review was compatible with the journalist’s manifesto.

I also asked him whether to describe a play as “anti-theatre” was compatible with his own criterion.

He has refused to budge further and delist the rest of the review. In this post I ask you to judge whether he was right. In the next I will put all of this into a wider context and ask you to judge that too.

I would only add one further thing here. When Jonathan Lovett writes ” the children with learning difficulties are brought out a handful of times and not given the chance to act or show what they are really capable of. ” there were reasons for that. The Theatre finally appointed a director for the play in mid January 2011 for the 8 March – 3 April production, and he had to find Oak Lodge School, East Finchley and its actors, and give them the time that children with special needed to rehearse their parts. Inevitably quite a few lines got lost in the process. Jonathan Lovett would not have known all that. For my part one of my personal joys was to see the pupil, Max Lewis, grow the part of Terry as the month’s production proceeded. I am sure his chosen career in acting will not look back despite this review. You can watch the BBC interview Max on the home page of my website.

Anyway, before I write my next post, I hope someone will urge Brian Attwood to think again. He won’t listen to me.

PS I wonder whether Jonathan Lovett has the slightest comprehension of the importance of gift of love in Act 2 Scene 5? A didactic, badly written, anti-theatrical thought maybe!

 

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