What you read in 2016

I know you’re all dying to get stuck into 2017 and maybe your optimism’s buoyed by no-one of David Bowie’s calibre having died yet, but one final thing to close off 2016 is a retrospective of what you guys read the most on my site. Always interesting to see what interested you the most.

Most read articles written in 2016

So, what did I do last year that raised eyebrows one way or the other. I’m going to exclude roundups of festival fringes here because they’re at an unfair advantage for obvious reason, but apart from that, what grabbed your attention.

(Obvious caveat: by “most read” I mean pageviews, as measured by WordPress. I have no way of knowing if you read the whole article or got bored by the third sentence. Also bear in mind that articles posted earlier in 2016 have had more time to rack up views than ones published later in the year, although the most-read articles tend to have the most pageviews shortly after publication.)

http://ic.c4assets.com/brands/stage-school/80469738-41ed-4c07-916e-8498bdf9ba23.jpg?interpolation=progressive-bicubic&output-format=jpeg&output-quality=90%7B&resize%7DMost read new comment piece: I write on a variety of issues, some contentious, some mainstream, but I’ve never been able to predict what gets the most attention. 2015’s most read comment piece about Richard Herring got the top spot after a retweet from the man itself. However, this time round the most read article was almost entirely found by Google searches: Why E4’s Stage School is all your fault, where I suggested that the blame for such an appalling depiction of actors must be shared by the people, actors and otherwise, who’ve watched programmes with Made in Chelsea before. Seems there’s a lot of interest from the arts world in this abomination. Only thing I don’t know is where this article was read by people who agree with me or people who think Stage School is the best piece of telly ever. No death threats received yet, but digging my bunker just in case.

Paul RobinsonMost read new news piece: This is a bit of a cheat category as there’s barely any competition – most developments now go into my monthly Odds and Sods articles. But I still got quite a lot of interest for the most-read news story: What does Paul Robinson mean for the Stephen Joseph Theatre? After the previous year’s surprise departure of artistic director Chris Monks, this follow-up tried to answer the questions I asked myself last time over what a change of leadership would mean. Strangely enough, six months on we don’t know much more other than pursuing a programme of new writing. With the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s peak season being the summer months, we may have to wait a couple more months before finding out what he has in store. The only clue is over And Then Come the Nightjars: an unexpected friendship, Robinson’s final play he directed with Theatre 503. The hot tip I am hearing is that author Bea Roberts could be lined up for something very soon.

Blue becomes The SavageMost read new review: Well, the one that gathered the most interest was The Savage: Live plays to its strengths, shown at Live Theatre back in July. These stats are always skewed towards the positive reviews, because they tend to get circulated by the performing theatres. (Most theatres have the sense to leave alone unenthusiastic reviews rather than make an issue of it.) But I was glad I saw that play which was a high point of the summer. I did seriously consider this play for Best Adaptation and Most Effective Staging – in another year it could have won one or both of these, but 2016 was unusually heavily contested in those categories and it narrowly missed out. Bad luck David Almond – he deserved to get something.

All the different fringe publications logosMost read new tips article: It seems the one that grabbed your interest the most is 10 rules to make sense of reviews at the fringe, my guide to navigating the surprisingly complex system of reviews in Edinburgh. Think it’s as easy as counting the number of four- and five-star reviews. Ha! You wish! Most of the tips in this article are common knowledge to Edinburgh Fringe veterans, but not so obvious to the newbies. Some tips are staggeringly complicated to apply in practice, but some others are quite obvious when you think about it, such as a five-star review being no good if it’s not the kind of play you’re interested in. Don’t go away though – I have an eleventh tip to add prior to the next fringe season about the worrying rise of virtue signalling reviews. Hopefully that will piss more people off.

Most read articles written in earlier years

Although I wrote a lot of new stuff, some articles from before 2016 keep hanging around. Some had revivals in response to specific events, others just keep going on and on and on. Here’s what you won’t stop looking at:

Kate SmurthwaiteMost read old comment piece: Okay, thought I’d heard the last of this. I raised a few eyebrows at the time with Kate Smurthwaite is no champion of free speech, where I questioned whether she was really committed to free speech as she claims to be – my firm view is that if you do not support free speech for your enemies, you do not support free speech at all, and her indifference to the censorship attempts against her long-standing nemesis Frankie Boyle was questionable. That, in turn, prompted an angry response from her in person and my first veiled legal threat. But that receded and I thought nothing of it until April last year when there was a sudden flurry. The reason, I discovered, was that she’s been stitched up at a gig in Goldsmith by people who block-booked free tickets and then didn’t turn up. And even though I’m the last person to want to defend Kate Smurthwaite after my last run-in, I had to condemn that behaviour as unacceptable. As an added bonus, it also enabled me to grab the smug-arse moral high ground by showing how readily I’d defend the free speech of someone I disagree with.

Chris MonksMost read old news piece: Staying on a Stephen Joseph Theatre theme, by far the most read news article was Chris Monks quits Stephen Joseph Theatre after six years. In fact, this was read more than the subsequent update on Paul Robinson’s appointment. Perhaps people are still looking for answers as to why Chris Monks did his suprise departure. But it’s no use asking me. I don’t know either.

Most read old review: Still a review from back in 2012: Absurd Person Singular: The most misunderstood Ayckbourn play? I don’t know why people keep reading this, but readership over doubled since last year, and it now accounts for almost 20% of my pageviews. I did say last year that I intended to write a proper analysis of this play since – I suspect – it’s being used by students for English assignments, but I didn’t get round to it. I will try to do it though. Give me a prod and I’ll hurry up.

Most read tips piece: And here’s another blast from the past: 10 common beginners’ mistakes in playwriting. That article has been ticking along ever since 2012 when web traffic just trickled to my blog, but pageviews have rocketed ever since September 2016. I’m not sure why this has happened – the only thing I’ve noticed is that, for some reason, my page is listed on a page of playwriting resources written in Bulgarian. I’m not kidding. Also, somewhere along the line, I’ve made it to the #3 Google result for “playwriting tips”. I was a little daunted by something I wrote so long ago ranking alongside articles from The Guardian on the subject, and I did think about changing this, but to be honest, I’ve not really changed my mind in the last five years. Some mistakes are being made more than others, but I still believe all of these things are best avoided.

And the most controversial article …

There was one other notable article. It wasn’t quite the most read article but it did provoke the most outrage. And it wasn’t the subject I expected either. I’ve really laid into some people on far more contentious subjects in articles that barely batted an eyelid, but apparently the surefire way to be on the receiving end of abuse and intimidation from people who should know better is to write On the Ladybird vs Elia spat, about the legal dispute between Penguin Random House and Ladybird. Not because I’d taken sides, but because I’d suggested it would be so much nicer if everyone could be friends again. But don’t worry, this inspired me to write the follow-up called Why I don’t believe Penguin’s side of the story (or, to use its alternative title, “Why Penguin are a load of fucking twats and so it everyone who supported how they behaved”). Tip for the future: when I’m trying to write an article urging reconciliation, don’t be an arsehole, or my follow-up won’t be so even-handed.

So that’s what you read in 2016. Join me again after 2017 to see what you read then. If we make it past Friday. I’m still betting on President Trump pressing the big red button in front of everyone straight after taking the oath.

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