Guardian critic Michael Billington recently brought back his bizarre alter-ego, a young woman named Helena, for his review of Fatherland at the Manchester International Festival. It is a completely baffling tactic and something quite creepy about it, especially at a time when women feel underrepresented as critics in the mainstream media, though Andrew Haydon argues that across 1st/2nd string it is more equal than it seems.
Haydon also tackled Billington’s odd relationship with his imaginary mentee but I struggle with the concept as well as the execution. I would oddly be more sympathetic is Billington just said “This woman is real, she is my mistress and I take her to theatre” then this roundabout way of contradicting himself.
Tabard at The Stage described Helena as “his Sasha Fierce…”, which is the issue. This is basically Billington being able to talk in a way his readership don’t expect him too and that he isn’t bold enough to say “This is me reacting to a work in a way I didn’t expect to”.
Putting aside that male and female voices aren’t and shouldn’t be that different it looks like a man either desperately trying to spice up a format or someone who wants to be able to write in a different style than expected of him and the least controversial option is making Helena a woman (Imagine if Billington had an imaginary BME counterpart for when he goes to see Hamilton, East is East or A Raisin in the Sun)
My advice to Michael is maybe try using some gifs, young people like gifs. I think.
Crucially why isn’t he supporting an actual existing woman in becoming a critic to “offset the male bias” instead of just imagining how young Oxbridge women sound and talk about theatre to men old enough to be their grandfather. I pretty much ignored Helena’s first appearance in his book 101 Greatest Plays but if she will continue to appear and re-appear when Michael gets a bit lonely in other cities then I look forward to her appearances and my continued bafflement.