Theatre Reviews – The Importance of Independent Reviewers

Theatre Reviews – The Importance of Independent Reviewers

Theatre Reviews: I’ve read a lot on social media recently about the point and worth of reviews for theatre shows. This has cropped up on my own Facebook news feed as well as in a recent article written by Mark Shenton for The Stage. I think you have to be realistic when asking yourself the most important question when it comes to reviews for a show you are in or part of, ‘what do I want to gain from a review?’ This may seem like an obvious question to ask, however I feel that the main focus of reviews seems to get lost very quickly, especially in am-dram circles.

For me, and I’m sure the vast majority of theatre practitioners out there, the main focus of a review is to assess various aspects of a production and for a fair and constructive opinion to be given. Said aspects can range from the obvious, such as looking at the principal performers to elements such as set design. costume and lighting. Important questions that should be asked (assuming we are focusing on cast) would be –

‘were they suited to their part?’

‘how did gel with the actors around them?’,

‘did they deliver a believable performance?’

‘what could they have done differently to improve said performance?’

The above may seem like stating the obvious, but I’ve lost track of local reviews I’ve seen, especially by NODA, that aren’t worth the paper they are written on. I’m not talking about potential difference of opinion, as I am well aware I might go to a show and hate it, but the person sitting next to me might love it. I’m talking about reviews that praise everything and everyone, giving little or no critique on how the production could have been improved. Not to put cold water on any actors or groups that have had reviews like this, but there is ALWAYS something that can be improved, especially at local level.

Claiming a local am-dram show is ‘West End standard’ is unfair, not only of those performers who work tirelessly on the West End, but also on the performers that have had that praise. It’s unfair because by making that statement you are basically stating they should down tools and make a career out of theatre. If you see a performer and think they have the potential to be there then by all means giving them good constructive feedback on how to improve elements of their theatre offering. The other issue I’ve found with NODA as a reviewing body is that the reviews can be wildly inconsistent in terms of content and what is actually covered, but worst of all, can be done by people directly connected to people in the show or who form part of the creative team. How is it fair to ask someone who might be best friends with the lead actor or who regularly sips cocktails with the director to then push all of that to one side and honestly give a 100% unbiased view?

Theatre Reviews – The Importance of Independent Reviewers

Using publications such as this, or even keeping an eye out for local theatre bloggers can provide a much more fair (not bullet-proof) way of getting fair feedback. After all, what sane person would not want to be told truthfully which parts of their show were good and what areas could have done with improvement? Fair reviews mean the good stuff can mean so much more as it’s not being sugar coated and your sense of accomplishment can stay without the nagging thought, ‘were they just being kind?’. Likewise, being made aware that the costume of a show made it hard to really ‘buy into the era it was set’ could highlight that more funds or research should go into future productions and if good advice is heeded and future shows benefit then everyone is a winner.

The last thing that I want is to encourage are people being brutal when reviewing or discussing shows, especially within the local am-dram theatre circuit! All that needs to be done is good sense to be mixed with relativity regarding the level of theatre the person is watching. If a company are promoting themselves as the best local am-dram musical society within a fifty mile radius, then review them as such. If instead you are watching a debut show by a small group of ex college students who are taking their first tentative steps into making theatre outside of education, then a different approach and tact needs to be used. What I mean is that ‘Group A’ most likely have much bigger budgets, owned costume/props/set and in theory their set-up should be more secure, whereas ‘Group B’ are starting from scratch so expectations should be adjusted.

To end, I just want to encourage people to have an open mind and be realistic with themselves. Do you want an honest review on what someone thought, or do you want to be told your doing a good job, regardless of whether you are? That’s not to say some NODA reviews are really good and offer good critique, but the majority I’ve seen (including from groups I’ve no history with) don’t seem to hold up to much inspection. Lastly, if this topic is of interest then get out their and start reviewing shows, or at least put that hat on from time to time. I always advise people to get someone in to watch rehearsals, whose opinion they trust, to give them feedback then so at least it can be altered. The problem with local reviews can be that they are published by the show run is nearly over, but at the very least, it should give them pointers to consider for next time.


Chris Lynch is the Artistic Director of C&D Productions and an avid supporter of local and regional theatre, working with groups across the East Midlands since 2011. He has directed 16 theatre shows and had performed in over 25 productions prior to starting C&D.

Chris can be found on Twitter and on Facebook. If you’re an actor, director or creative then he’s pleased to hear from you and is always open to offers to direct theatre locally.

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