NY Times’ Theatre Critic Ditches Reviews for Mask Obsession, Fear of ‘Barefaced’ Audience


New York Times’ theatre critic Laura Collins-Hughes’ reviews from London’s West End have sadly devolved into anxious screeds about COVID and masks, those cloth talismans of liberal moral superiority that she flaunts like a Trump fan would wear a MAGA hat.

Admittedly she had bad luck in London in September 2021 upon her return to reviewing West End theatre, testing positive for the virus and having to quarantine.

Before she got her fateful results, she boasted she “was already double-masked…I was a maniac about masks.”

Despite her precautions, Collins-Hughes’ mandatory COVID test came back positive and she had to quarantine for 10 days.

…at that and nearly every production I saw, there were loads — sometimes a majority — of barefaced people in the crowd, which felt reckless and delusional, as if the pandemic were a thing of the past….

Skip ahead in time to February 2022 and this Sunday’s edition, where her hypochondria squeezed out any entertaining details about the shows she attended, under the headline deck: “I Love London Theater. But Not London Theatergoing. — While full of fine shows, a long-awaited binge was also full of stress about how loosely audiences followed rules about staying healthy in a pandemic.”

Do cloth masks have any impact on someone “staying healthy”? It hasn’t been shown.

She had more bad luck when England’s National Health Service notified her as being a contact of someone who had tested positive for COVID.

I’d only seen one friend this trip and he was OK, so it had to be a stranger, this person with Covid. My mind scrambled to figure out where our paths had crossed. Based on the time frame that the N.H.S. suggested, I would bet it was at a small, crowded theater two nights earlier — my prime suspect being the guy in front of me who’d sneezed mid-show. That’s when I noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask.

How can one live like this, ranking everyone around you as a “suspect” in spreading disease, as if they’re murderers for unwittingly living their lives while positive for COVID?

Which made him pretty unremarkable here, in a city with genuinely world-beating theater but audience Covid safety protocols ranging from lax to cavalier, and getting looser. Over my 12-day visit, which included some gorgeous productions I am grateful to have seen, that lack of stringency dampened my anticipation of shows, my enjoyment of them — and ultimately my interest in going to them.

She has major problems with other people’s faces.

….It was a jolt, though, in a more than century-old West End theater that couldn’t be described as airy, to see whole groups of people walk in and take their seats barefaced….I decided it wasn’t and fled at intermission, back onto the street, back into the open air.

Keep in mind she’s fully vaccinated.

It boggles my mind that so many theatergoers in London, sitting side by side for hours, don’t bother with that elementary precaution [face covering]– if not for themselves, then for the actors, who are not masked, and for other people in the audience who might be medically vulnerable, not able to be vaccinated yet or in close contact with people in either of those groups. It is such a simple kindness. It is also an act of inclusion.

Is her snooty attitude at all representative of the average English theatergoer, or is she just overlaying her personal panicky liberal template upon the West End of London?

She ended up walking out of two shows for fear of other “bare-faced” people. Those performers were also unmasked as they shouted into the evening. Were they not a health concern?



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