Is there a person alive who doesn’t love to read a good bad review? (Apart, obviously, from the subject of the review.) Positive notices are all well and good but they’re kind of limiting: a negative review is what really unleashes the critic’s full powers, letting them unsheathe every rhetorical device and bon mot at their disposal.
Diana Rigg is probably most famous to North Americans as Lady Olenna in Game of Thrones, or possibly Mrs. Peel in The Avengers, but like many English actors the bulk of her career has been on the stage. Consequently, she knows pretty much everybody well enough to have asked them to contribute their favourite bad reviews and anecdotes, adding to them excerpts — ranging from a few words (someone noting that Oscar Wilde’s first play, “Vera, or The Nihilists” was “vera, vera bad”) to a lengthy analysis (George Bernard Shaw’s meticulous dissection of a ridiculous naval drama) — from hundreds of years of published criticism. After a brief and fascinating history of English theatre, she quotes reviews such as Robert Garland’s dismissal of Chekhov: “If you ask me what Uncle Vanya is about, I would say about as much as I can take,” and relates such stories as Sir Ralph Richardson’s once stopping a play and breaking character to ask, “Is there a doctor in the house?” (When a playgoer stood to identify himself as such, Richardson said, “Doctor, isn’t this play terrible?”)
This book is long out of print but is easily available second-hand from Amazon, and it’s worth whatever they’re asking.