This term I am taking the only compulsory module on my course – Theatre Reviewing. It’s a class I was looking forward to because we go to see a play every week, sometimes more than one, for free. I thought I would enjoy the class, I thought it would be similar to writing reviews for this blog, something I often enjoy but I would get feedback on my writing and hopefully improve a bit. It didn’t work out that way.
The first show we saw was The Mother’s Arms. It was perfect because it was a show I would not have chosen to see myself but one I thoroughly enjoyed. It was funny and joyous and very, very Irish. I loved it. And yet when I sat down to write down the review I had no idea what to say. I was completely intimidated by the idea that I might be asked to read my review out loud in class. I didn’t know where to start or what to focus on or even if I had anything vaguely useful to say. I was second guessing myself every two lines, I no longer trusted my own taste or opinions. I had to write to a word limit, something I don’t even think about when I’m writing here – I just write until I have said all I need to say. (This is one of the wonderful things about being your own editor and publisher!) It took me a really long time to write that review and the process hasn’t really got any easier.
One of the most difficult reviews to write was for the GUMS’s production of Spring Awakening. Two of my classmates were in the cast and I hadn’t read a review in class so I knew I would have to read this one! I felt like I couldn’t mentioned my classmates in the review because I didn’t feel like I could be objective about their performances. They were both excellent but I didn’t know if I just thought that because they were my friends! We also have a pretty quick turn-over on our reviews. We generally see the show on Tuesday and have to have our reviews ready for class on Thursday morning. I am often still struggling to finish the review on Thursday morning.
I am learning a lot in the class and hopefully my writing is improving but I still prefer writing here! We saw Fishamble‘s Silent last term. I loved it but I didn’t write about it for class. I am saving it to write about here! (It’s in the Peacock in June – go see it!)
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!