The world of “judgement” in art has always been a bit of an awkward mystery to me. On the one hand I meet a vast number of people who claim that no one should judge anyone else. No one has the “right” to tell anyone what to do. No one has the right to “invade another’s space” with their judgmentalism. On the other I have met some of those very same people doling out judgment as “temporary reviewers” as Festivals. The biggest arts festivals become a sudden recruiting ground for a very large number of wannabe judges. I have spoken to some of them and watched others in action. Some do actually write the review in their head BEFORE seeing a show based on a love of the sheer power of it. Others simply have a fear of writing well and so pre-concoct reviews from a combination of borrowing from others’ clichés and choice phrases, combined with their own made-up clumsiness or use of stereotyping as a literary crutch.
Trashing a show early in a festival is an easy thing for a poor reviewer to do. It gives them confidence and a “story to tell”. For some with even half a heart, it gets the “worst over with” at the start. Other reviewers like to bring work crashing down to earth (whether it is good or not) simply because it has warmth, which the particular “judger” fears for various reasons from their own biography. The disastrous combination for any theatre company or performer is the mix of a warm-hearted show (or indeed anything with a message) and a reviewer who is still trying to get surrogate revenge on his/her parents for “telling me what to do”.
It is shocking and sad enough that the various so called quality newspapers and magazines recruit such pisspoor people in the first place, often from equally pisspoor amateur publications. But the big irony is that the very people who have often suffered at the hands of judgmental parents, lecturers or partners, now apply the same clumsy and heavy-handed destruction to shows which, by any COMMON SENSE view, are well put together, demonstrate creativity or talent.
I have no personal axe to grind her and have made a fine living from the theatre work I am engaged with. I only care for the work and the warm and genuine response we get from our audiences. But the Darwinistic hatcheting that masquerades as “reviewing” is often cruel and massively harmful to well-intentioned and energetic people. A bad show is a bad show. But a good show at a festival can suffer the crime of being trashed on day one by talentless, pisspoor reviewing.
It’s okay for someone not to like a show. It’s okay for someone to say why a show is badly written or directed, staged or performed. But it will never be okay for a pisspoor reviewer to pursue an agenda against an artist, to mock them out of clumsy cruelty, or to simply be allowed to NON-review a show because the newspaper or magazine is either corrupt or incompetent.
Examples of pisspoor reviewing include:
– a reviewer trashing a show when just about every audience member (representing a broad cross section of humanity often) adored it for COMMON SENSE reasons of it being well staged, written and delivered. The least the reviewer should so is report to future potential audiences what the majority reaction was.
– a reviewer engaging in REGION-bashing or even stereotyping
– a reviewer trashing a show not our of any review of the show’s quality but by allowing personal irritations to take the review over
– a reviewer trying to be clever with the review at the expense of a review that allows future audiences to gain insight into the work. Often the pisspoor reviewer fails to be satirical or ironic, but is downright nasty and cruel for its own sake
– a POOR review of a show simply because the reviewer “feels like it” or is trying to balance the number of poor reviews with the good ones for the day
At the end of the day, the reviewer moves on to the next show or “cocktail party”. But like a burglar or a mugger, they don’t wait around long enough to smell the stench their piss has left all over a group of human beings. In 20 years of theatre, a NEGATIVE review that is constructive is nearly always FINALLY taken on board by a theatre group, writer or director. But a pisspoor review simply contributes to yet more sadness and negativity in an already cold and cynical world.