Stop treating Quentin Letts as a reviewer. Please.

smug_letts
Quentin Letts, smirking with the news that yet another article’s been written about him, yesterday.

Quentin Letts has the right to say what he likes about a play. The rest of us should exercise our right to not listen to him.

Okay Quentin, you win, you bastard. I’ve been ignoring you for months knowing that any response to what you write is exactly what you want to happen. But since everyone else (pretty much) took the rage-bait, it won’t make any difference – you’ve already got the attention you ordered. I’m relenting, damn you.

So, as it’s pretty much impossible to not have heard already, the thing that set this all off was a review he wrote (content warning: Daily Mail sidebar) of a production of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs. Rich, where he questioned whether an actor, Leon Wringer, he believed to be miscast got the part because he was black. Cue outrage from everyone. Now, I have a rule that when someone is getting dogpiled, however much the brought it on themselves, I try my best to be fair. For what it’s worth, I can’t comment on this particular production having not seen it; but in the six years I’ve been running this blog I’ve seen a lot of plays cast ethnic minority actors in a part previously assumed to be white, and I’ve never once felt the play was worse because of it. However, that’s just my opinion, and if Mr L genuinely thinks otherwise, he is within his rights to say this.

However, I don’t actually believe what he writes has much to do with what he really thinks. For one thing, his reasoning was pretty flimsy. You might just have an argument if they cast someone who couldn’t act, but Letts’s argument is that the male love interests weren’t sexy enough. Physical attraction is subjective enough as it is, but to then extrapolate that into saying someone was a racial quota filler? Even Quentin must have known how weak an argument that is. And for another thing, Quentin Letts has a long track record of saying things that get reactions. He’s made a series of borderline pervy comments in reviews, but this passage from a review of Salome (content warning: more Daily Mail sidebar) takes the biscuit: Continue reading

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There’s no such thing as an objective review

COMMENT: However much reviewers may try otherwise, you cannot eliminate subjectivity from a review. We should learn to embrace it instead.

One of the topics of discussion that’s been cropping up frequently ever since @NICritics took to Twitter is the concept of an “objective review” as opposed to a “subjective review”. As with many debates, this can mean different things to different people, but probably this can be summed up by the idea that a subjective review is just somebody’s opinion, but an objective view is immune to personal biases. And on the face of it, surely you’d want the latter? Why take the opinion of just anyone when you can have someone who’s considered all the facts?

To some extent, this is worthy thing to strive for. Anyone can write a review of “It’s good cos I like it” or “It’s bad cos I don’t like it”, but that’s not terribly helpful. Some reviews digress into personal opinions all the time. That’s not automatically a bad thing – bloggers are at liberty to write whatever they like and everyone else is free to read or not read the review. This can even happen in professional publications; Charlie Brooker, for instance, did this all the time when he wrote Screen Burn for the Guardian, but he got away with because he had a strong personal reputation for being insightful and entertaining, and anyway, Charlie Brooker is right about everything. However, that’s an exception, and in general you expect a certain amount of professionalism from the reviewer – if one reads a review from ThreeWeeks or BroadwayBaby, one expects it to be about the play, not the reviewer. Continue reading