The fault is not in our stars

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I’ll admit to being a tad narcissistic about my reviews. After all, I make them public, engage happily with those who read and comment on them, and WordPress has a lot of great widgets which make the graph fan in me very happy. And yes, I Google myself (well, this blog).

Which is how I found quotes from a couple of my reviews being used as promotional quotes. This makes me incredibly happy – it’s nice to have a turn of phrase you’ve laboured over recognised. What came out of left field was that at least one excerpt assigned a four-star rating to my words. Which of course I never gave it, because I never attach ratings to any of my reviews. I’m not saying they got the rating wrong; I’m just saying it wasn’t mine, and I found it a little weird!

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I can see the appeal of the five star rating. It’s easy and quick for the writer and for the reader (and for the hapless reviewee, stuck in the middle). It fits nicely on posters. But I’m afraid I was never going to put a single figure on my reviews. Firstly, because as a hopeless bleeding heart, I would never be able to give any production 0 (or probably even 1) stars. Secondly, because as a hard nut who spends their whole life being critical* I’d be very unlikely to give productions 5 stars. And I don’t think a three-point scale would be a particular aid to understanding what I thought of the 38 different shows I’ve reviewed so far!

And that’s really the wider issue, isn’t it? There are so many different aspects to every production that it seems impossible to me to reduce them to a single digit. What if the acting is great but the setting doesn’t work, or the costumes seem slightly off, or the music doesn’t gel? Or half the cast seem to be in a different play to the other half**? What if everyone’s doing their best but it just doesn’t work for you – one of those days, stuck next to a cougher or a compulsive phone-checker? Or it’s a play you just don’t like***, despite the best efforts of everyone involved?

Let’s face it, all reviewing is – all being in an audience is – is setting down an emotional response to the piece in front of you. Admittedly that’s a gross oversimplification, but a review must seek to tell the reader how the piece made the reviewer feel, and analyse why. Good reviewers may be able to deal intelligently with stagecraft (I can rarely remember which one’s stage left), or speak with confidence on the Aristotelian unities of script-writing, or set out at length how this production compares to others. But, for me, if they did all this without talking about what it meant for them, it would fall very flat indeed. I’d like to be able to think that most humans – most plays – are complex enough to have a response which can’t be set down in a single number…


* Literally; professional scepticism is part of my job description.

** This has happened to me, although admittedly not at a Shakespeare production…

*** I’m looking at you, Romeo and Juliet…

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