Most publications give all kinds of reviews, from the glowing to the scathing. There’s nothing wrong with that format, but that’s not an option for me. Being a writer and director myself, the thing I want to avoid at all costs is mutual mud-slinging. And the best way of doing this is by concentrating plays that are good, or at least show potential, similar to what Fringereview does.
This does not, however, mean unreserved sycophantic praise. If a play is a load of rubbish, I wouldn’t try to find something nice to say; it probably won’t get a review at all. Where a play shows potential, I will still highlight both the good and the bad – not because I want to pick faults, but because I want future productions to be better.
Here are the general rules you can expect me to consider when deciding what to recommend:
What will be considered for review:
Quite simply, anything I go and see, bar the exceptions listed below. Note, however, I go to plays because I want to see them, not because I want to review them. I don’t work to any set list of which plays in the north-east cultured people are supposed to see – it will simply be down to what takes my fancy, be it publicity, plot description, past record of company or writer, or just a whim.
Also, please remember I have a life outside of theatre. I don’t always have time to see the things I want to see. Similarly, I do sometimes go to other parts of the country for reasons unrelated to theatre. If I’m reviewing a play I saw in London, it’s highly unlikely I’ve come all the way from Durham to see you – it’s more likely I was going to London anyway.
What won’t be considered for review:
First of all, certain things are out of scope of this site and will not be reviewed no matter how good it is. The main exclusions are:
- I don’t review anything I’m involved in, whether as writer, director, actor, backstage or anything else – that goes without saying. If you want to know what I’m up to, you can look here.
- I’m also unlikely to review anything written or directed by someone I know. Even though I generally don’t post negative reviews, I still don’t want my decisions on what to recommend compromised in any way. As a rule of the the thumb, if it would be difficult for me to be brutally honest on what I thought of your play, I cannot be impartial.
- I don’t normally review readings or script-in-hand performances (unless it’s exceptional) – I will normally want to see the finished product. However, if it’s good, I may list it in my recommendations if and when the full performance comes.
- I generally don’t review anything that’s not theatre. I’ve seen some dance, comedy and music that I enjoyed, but I don’t know enough about these genres to make any meaningful comment.
How to get a positive review:
Short answer: I have to like it. If you want a longer answer:
- First of all, what I will NOT consider is what other reviews say. No critic, however, prestigious, should have the right to decide what plays discerning people are supposed to enjoy. I will make up my own mind and agree or disagree with mainstream consensus as much as I want.
- It helps for a play or production to be original. A new play that tries something innovative may get a good review even if it doesn’t quite work out. If it’s a very well-known play, it’ll have to be damned good to get my attention.
- I aim to balance my recommendations between different theatres and companies, so that new companies and writers have a fair chance against the big and successful ones. A company with a string of excellent productions to its name might not get a review if the play is only good. The same play, however, could get a recommendation if performed by a small group I’ve never heard of.
- I publish very few reviews of amateur productions outside of festival fringes. There’s no rule against being an amateur group, and I treat amateur and professional productions equally, but most amateur productions tend to be performances of well-known published plays. So in order to get me attention, the production has to be something exceptional to compensate for the lack of originality. If you want me to give a good review of your amateur play, you’re better off doing something original, or introducing me to an excellent play I’ve never heard of. You are not entitled to a “didn’t they all try hard” review.
- I will consider the quality of the writing, directing, staging and acting – but I won’t normally rate individual performances unless it’s something exceptional. Just a personal preference, but publicly singling out an actor as a weak link isn’t that helpful. Unfortunately, the old adage of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” isn’t much good here, because if you’re the only actor whose performance I haven’t mentioned in a review, it’s not hard to put two and two together. Easiest to not comment on individuals at all. Unless it’s something really good.
How to get a negative review:
In general: it’s difficult to get a negative review. This is a site to tell people what to see, not what to avoid, so if a play’s bad it probably won’t be reviewed at all. There are only two exceptions I consider:
- Just occasionally, I give a kicking to a big-budget production that is heavily hyped and/or subsidised if the people in charge ought to know better. This is rare because I steer clear of any expensive plays I’ve got a bad feeling about, but I’ve been caught out before.
- A little more often, I sometimes post a critical review if I feel a theatre, company or writer is going in the wrong direction. If I do, this is not to urge readers not to go, but to urge to group to get back in the right direction. Please don’t make me do this more than I have to. If I have to write a review of this kind, that means you are capable of doing better.
And if you don’t get a review …
I am told that some people are working out which shows Fringereview rates as 1- or 2-star by working out which shows Fringereview sent someone to that subsequently didn’t get a public review. So before anyone tries doing something similar here, I must clarify that the absence of a review doesn’t necessarily mean I thought the play was bad. The play could have been good but similar to a number of other plays, good but not as good as other plays the company/writer has done, or just something I’m not interested in or familiar with and therefore not in a position to say anything interesting. Or (as is the the case for a small number of plays), I might have thought it was awful.
Fringereview routinely contacts groups whose plays didn’t qualify for a good review to offer private feedback. I don’t have time to do the same, but I will give private feedback to anyone who asks. If you don’t have my e-mail address, you can contact me here.
Right of reply:
There should be little or no snarky comments on this blog that people need to defend themselves from, but if there’s anything I’ve written about your play that you want to respond to, please do. I have no intention to be like those online reviewers who happily criticise other people’s efforts but don’t like being criticised back. Within reason, I will let you have the last word.
No berating someone for answering back, please. Discussing a reply is fine, but any comments attacking or patronising someone for responding to criticism will probably be deleted quickly. I now have a proper comments policy if you want to read it, but the simple rule is to be nice to each other.
Right, that’s your rules. Now give me something good to review.
Last updated 5th February 2015