Reviewing and directing

Lyn Gardner wrote an article recently about reviewing actors’ performances which became a little bit about reviewing in general. The line “My rule is to gloss over a mediocre performance unless it comes with a star name attached” made me think about the reviews I write for this blog. It made me happy to know that I’m not the only one who wants to avoid writing a bad review. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Even though my influence is non-existant and it’s unlikely anyone involved in the production would read it, it would still feel mean. I know how much time and effort goes into a production, it seems unnecessary to dismiss all that while sitting safely behind my keyboard. If I don’t like something, I just don’t write about it. Of course, I have that luxury because I’m only really writing for myself. It nice to have people read what I write my reviews but I don’t have to answer to anyone else.

I write about the shows I like because I want to celebrate their good work and encourage people to go see it. I also think it’s useful for me because I want to create theatre, to write about it. Writing a review means I have to look at things a little more closely, to try and figure out why I enjoyed a particular piece of theatre so much. I can walk out of the theatre thinking ‘yeah, I really liked that’ but when I sit down to write about it, I have to think about what it was I liked about it, what made it so enjoyable, what made it work. (It would probably be helpful to write about shows I don’t like and try figure out why I they didn’t do anything for me, but I am a generous reviewer – if I like something, I will attribute it to the skills of the theatre makers, if I don’t like it, I’ll blame myself; I didn’t get it, it’s not my sort of thing, etc.)

I do mention acting (though I’ve never written anything as beautiful and concise as the examples in that article) because it’s something that interests me. The thing I find hard to review is directors. I find it difficult to see a director’s influence. I say this as someone who has both directed and been directed, who has been in very rehearsal rooms. I know a director’s contribution can be huge, generally is huge because it’s their vision you are seeing onstage, but with a good director you don’t really notice that. The whole thing will seem so natural and right that it’s impossible to imagine it happening any other way. That is the result of a million decisions and aborted attempts but if it’s a good show – you don’t that. I have a lot of respect and admiration for good directors, even if I don’t generally mention them in my reviews!

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