Making a complaint

If you are reading this page, chances are you are unhappy with something I’ve written. This isn’t what I want for anyone, and if you are thinking of making a complaint over it I’m sorry it has come to this. I can’t promise to do what you ask, but I do want to make sure complaints are dealt with as fairly as possible.

How to complain

The best way to contact me if you’re making a complaint is through the Contact Page. I will try to address complaints made face-to-face or through social media, but email gives you space to say what you need to say.

Complaints will be given more weight if they are made by the person or company I have written about. If you are complaining on behalf of someone else and they’ve asked you bring this up for them, it’s better to make this clear in your complaint. If you think I’ve been unfair about someone who hasn’t expressed a problem with I’ve written, I will still take the complaint seriously, but without talking to the person in question the options for a resolution will be limited.

If you don’t hear back from me within a week, it’s unlikely it’s because I’m stonewalling you – it’s more likely that an errant spam filter has eaten your message. Get in touch with me another way and I’ll see what’s happened.

Stage one: resolution with me

For anything that I treat as a complaint, the first thing I will do is try to resolve it with you. The following options are open to you.

Factual inaccuracies

I have a lot of reviews to get through, I do not necessarily get every detail right. If, for example, I’ve credited the wrong person as as a writer, actor, or director, I will change this straight away. Normally, that should be all that is necessary. In the unlikely event that the incorrect information has been widely circulated beyond this blog, or the factual inaccuracy is damaging, I will consider taking further action to put it right. But nine times out of ten, a straightforward edit is all that’s needed.

Request removal of a review

This is a theatre blog that wants to be a service to theatre companies. Where possible, I want to promote artists and plays. If not, the next best thing I can offer is constructive criticism on how to put things right. The reason I choose to publish lukewarm and unenthusiastic reviews alongside the praiseful ones is that, in my experience, most theatre companies prefer these kind of reviews to no review at all. Some of them like to pull quotes, some of them like the record that they’ve done the play, and some appreciate the advice.

However, I do not believe in telling people what’s best for them, and it’s your prerogative to decide if you want don’t want this. I am also mindful that Google has a long memory. If you want a review of something you’ve done taken down, ask and I will normally agree to it. Please note that this request has to come from the artist/company themselves – if I’m not sure about this, I may ask for confirmation first.

The only time I will consider saying no to this is if it’s a major production from a well-known artist or company. If you are a touring West End Production, or the Artistic Director of a major theatre, you should be able to withstand the odd bit of public criticism alongside all the good publicity you get from the media. At my discretion, I might remove the names of individuals mentioned in the review if they’re not public figures (this should be uncommon – I rarely single out individual actors for criticism in a review). But I expect major producers and directors to have thicker skins.

Please be aware that if you request a removal of a review this way, it is unlikely I will review you again. I don’t have time to write reviews if there’s a high chance there will be another takedown request, and my desire to support grass-roots theatre does not extend towards allowing people to pick and choose which reviews stay online. Also be aware that removal of a review does not equal a retraction. If you think the review was unfair and you want me to acknowledge it was unfair, it is better to complain about the review itself.

Complaining about a review

If simply requesting a takedown isn’t the route for you, you can complain about the review itself. This also applies to recommendations and news about theatre productions, although I normally only write those about plays I liked. Complaints about me giving undue publicity or praise to productions is also a valid form of complaint. I do have various rules on conflict of interest dotted around the blog – at some point I will try to get them in into one place.

The one thing I will not accept as grounds for complaints is my artistic verdict. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it, and no amount of rules can force me to enjoy something. It also won’t change things if the performers worked hard to produce the play, they’re having a hard time, they are raising awareness or a worthy issue or anything similar – as soon as reviewers pretend to like something on the basis that it’s they duty to say so, it undermines the whole integrity of reviews.

The grounds on which I will consider a review to be unfair includes, but it not limited to:

  • A verdict based on mistaken facts;
  • Unwarranted personal attacks;
  • A verdict unduly influenced by conflict of interest, or failure to declare a conflict of interest that readers should have been aware of;
  • Unfairly holding one group to a different standard to another comparable group;
  • Any kind of bias;
  • Excessive negativity beyond what can be considered constructive criticism.

If you persuade me that I’ve been unfairly critical, I am not above apologising and retracting the review. If appropriate, I will publish a new review. If a retraction isn’t an appropriate resolution, I may instead consider changing details or adding a clarification. If there is a substantial change, I will normally add a footnote explaining what was changed.

If you persuade me I’ve been unfairly positive, the review will probably have to stand – it would not be appropriate to retract a positive review just because someone else persuaded me the praise was unearned. However, I may think twice before promoting that play in the future.

Complaining about a comment piece

Some of my comment pieces are heavily critical of public figures. I do have some principles I operate here. I always do some basic fact-checking before writing the post (more extensive than what I do for reviews) – not only do I want to get my criticisms right, I want my arguments to be robust. I also make sure I check I am responding to what they actually said rather than a strawman, I don’t kick public figures when they’re down, and if someone is the subject of a media dog-pile I take extra care to note the case for their defence.

But as far as complaints go, I generally expect discussions on the conduct of public figures to be done in public. If you don’t like the opinions I expressed, the correct response is to say which of my opinions are wrong and why. If you are a public figure and you don’t like what I wrote about you, you are welcome to use my comments to respond (I have a right of reply policy, and comments of this nature will be published unedited within reason). However, I only undertake to do what is necessary to stay within the law. If I’ve got something factually wrong, I will correct it; if it’s misleading, I will clarify it.

For the avoidance of doubt – and for the benefit of people who don’t get this – a statement of fact is not wrong (or a lie, or a smear) just because I didn’t follow it up with your preferred counterargument. It’s not my job to make your arguments for you.

Other than factual content, the only other complaint I’m likely to take seriously is if you think I’m unfairly singling out someone who shouldn’t be considered a public figure. People who are in positions of power (especially power over other artists or the direction of the arts in general) must be open to public scrutiny, and people who regularly appear in the national media must be prepared to take public criticism (especially if they use their public platform to criticise others), but that should not apply to ordinary people. Not everything is that simple, of course. Sometimes ordinary people get caught up in major controversies – when this happens, I try to avoid naming them if possible; there’s not much point in doing this if the name is already widely known though. But if you think I’ve overstepped the line and used my blog to unduly criticise a non-public figure, I want to know.

Stage two: external arbitration

If I cannot resolve a complaint to your satisfaction, the other option is external arbitration. Richard Stamp, editor of FringeGuru and editor-at-large of The Wee Review has agreed to be my external arbiter in this situation.

Stage one can end at any point if, in my opinion, there is no realistic prospect of a resolution that will satisfy both of us. If that happens, I will tell you this and inform you of the option to escalate this to Richard Stamp. You can also request this yourself if I have already responded to your original complaint and you don’t think an agreement can be reached.

How Richard Stamp chooses to handle this is his call. He has my permission to overrule me on anything here, including the rest of this complaints policy. I will respect his verdict, and this is the final outcome of the complaints process.

If you do not want to escalate the complaint when given the chance, that is your call, but if you choose this that too will bring the complaints process to an end. It is highly unlikely that I will continue to engage with a complaint after arbitration has been offered and declined.

Footnote: don’t be a dick

Please be aware that this complaints process is a courtesy, not an obligation. Many theatre reviews publications don’t have a complaints policy, or at least not one that’s open to public viewing. I reserve the right to reconsider this policy if it’s being abused.

In particular, I am assuming good faith with complaints, and intend to treat complaints in confidence. That assumption is not absolute. If you make personal attacks in your complaint, be aware I only have a finite amount of patience. I reserve the right to go public with a complaint if it contains threats or abuse.

If you have any doubts over whether your complaint would warrant that course of action, don’t put threats or abuse in. It’s not that hard. If you must complain, keep it polite and that’ll be better for everyone. Okay?

Last updated 23rd January 2020