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Everybody is a Critic.

March 7, 2012

For a while, a few weeks back, I followed an online discussion (which will remain anonymous to protect those involved) regarding opinions about a person who took over a role in a production.

One contributor stated that several opinions on other websites were favourable, thus proving the case. A retort was that the sites quoted were not those of professional reviewers, but of people who happen to own websites.

The question of course is, “who is a professional reviewer?”

Both Theatremonkey.com’s readers know that I’ve never reviewed a show online there. Since the day it started, all that’s ever been provided is a “Theatremonkey opinion” and it is just that – my opinion (unless I’ve not seen a production, in which case I provide a brief report of professional reviews).

Why do I make a difference? Mostly, it’s about experience. A professional reviewer, who is paid to see as much theatre as possible and who thus organises their life to do so, will simply have seen far more than I ever could… or indeed sometimes may wish to. To an extent I have the luxury of being able to pick my shows a bit – if I can’t face another “Hamlet” I don’t have to – professional reviewers do.

I recall hearing a radio interview once that asked exactly how a professional can in fact endure multiple “Hamlet” visits in a month. The reply was that they can always compare many productions and contrast them. I can do this to an extent, but not over the same time period as some of the best.

The other hallmark of a professional reviewer, I’d say, is an actual background in the craft. Ignoring cries of “elitist,” I’d say that a Public School (that’s a private school, for American readers, and one that’s at the top – Eton, Rugby etc) education and Oxbridge English degree, and / or  years writing for top newspapers or being an actor really does create a mind able to process even the least penetrable work a playwright and director can produce.

Just to be clear, I don’t have any of those myself… and don’t want them. I’m firmly in the “if the writer can’t make it clear what he’s saying, then he’s rubbish” camp, and if you have to “deconstruct” (whaaatttt???) a text to find a meaning, the writer’s possibly a pillock. If you want to play about with the language, feel free – just don’t expect me to spend my time or cash on doing so.

Hence, I give an ‘opinion.’ Yes, I’ll base it on experience and reference when I can, but I’m not going to debate anything I see. I’ll tell you what I think and happily listen to your thoughts, but that’s as far as it goes.

Thus, yes, I’d say that somebody with the ability to put up a website online is indeed not necessarily qualified to call themselves a “professional reviewer.” Many other things – taste creator, commentator, but not a full-time experienced practitioner of ‘leaving no turn unstoned’ as the line about critics has it.

Now, on seats, that’s another matter – I consider myself a “professional” reviewer of those – I have the experience and years of study, and work at it full time (my favourite TV viewing chair has a “green” rating, as does that seat by the window on the Met line, but anyway). Writing about theatre, though, I dabble and enjoy it, but that’s as far as it goes. I think it’s healthy, as the thought of “Hamlet” four times in a week is too much, not not too much for me…

4 Comments
  1. Sarah Louise permalink
    March 7, 2012 10:50 am

    This is interesting. I have recently starting writing for The Public Reviews. I certainly do not consider myself a “professional reviewer” I just have a passion for theatre and want to share my thoughts. I often find that in general the “professional” reviews use language not familiar to the general viewing public. Several times I have been at the exact performance reviewed by a professional and I could see no resemblance between their words and the show I had just seen !! At the end of the day people want to know if a show is worth spending their hard earned money on, they want to know if it was entertaining and if there were any stand out performances etc. One reviewer I am aware of regularly just states facts that can be found in the show programme.. no opinions and no comments on the actual show at all! What a professional can lose sight of is the diversity of the audience and their expectations. A person who rarely goes to the theatre may absolutely love a show because they are unable to compare it to a superior performance. on the other side of the coin someone who goes regularly can be very hard to please as they have high expectations! I was recently at a show where the audience seemed to be thoroughly enjoying what I considered to be a very mediocre performance .. thus proving that one mans meat is another mans poison!

    • Steve Rich permalink
      March 7, 2012 12:08 pm

      Great points, Sarah Louise, and I do agree that most people do just want to know if it’s worth 65 or not. In fact, that’s something I left out of the blog entry – professionals never pay, and I know from when I see a production without paying that it can be harder to be objective about whether it’s worth the real price of a ticket.

      You are also right that regulars are subject to the “seen it all before” thing, another thing I too have to forget sometimes.

      As for meat / poison, I always remember the late, great, Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail. If he loved it, I’d hate it and vice-versa… worked perfectly once I’d figured it out!

  2. Clive permalink
    March 11, 2012 12:49 pm

    “if you have to “deconstruct” (whaaatttt???) a text to find a meaning, the writer’s possibly a pillock.”

    Ha ha, absolutely!

    “I was recently at a show where the audience seemed to be thoroughly enjoying what I considered to be a very mediocre performance”

    I know exactly what you mean, Sarah Louise – it has happened to me several times recently.

    “one mans meat is another mans poison!”

    It’s especially true with comedy I find, where personal tastes can vary widely.

    • Steve Rich permalink
      March 12, 2012 1:16 pm

      Thanks Clive!

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