If you – as producer – invite critics to see and comment on your show, then you have to live with the consequences. Right? Reviewers, especially seasoned professional ones, have a nasty habit of spotting and saying things you’d rather they didn’t. It’s a calculated risk and it’s how the relationship between producers (and others involved with the show) works.
I’ve noticed though that this time-honoured etiquette – if that’s what it is – seems to be crumbling. I saw a children’s Christmas show daily in December and sometimes more than one. They ranged from the astonishingly fine five-star Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre to the anything-but-excellent Nutcracker: The Musical at the Pleasance for which I struggled to find one star. And between those extremes, of course, were lots of shows which were, at best pretty good, and at worst lack lustre.
“It’s true that I’ve never personally taken part – in any capacity – in a children’s Christmas show, but I have seen, for example, hundreds of pantomimes in the last twenty years or so and I certainly know good from bad.”
And my responsibility to my readers is to say so. It’s true that I’ve never personally taken part – in any capacity – in a children’s Christmas show, but I have seen, for example, hundreds of pantomimes in the last twenty years or so and I certainly know good from bad. That’s my job and although I don’t stint on praise when it’s due I’m no wanton gusher. I also watch audiences closely, especially at pantomimes.
If it’s working for the children present then it’s probably a fit-for-purpose show. When the kids are bored, restive and not picking up on very basic jokes then there’s something seriously wrong. It applies to non-panto Christmas shows too, of course. If the children, however young, are “engaged” – that is listening, watching, entranced, responsive – the director and team are getting it right. Fidgeting and frequent lavatory traipses are a sign that the show is missing its target.
But how the people whose shows fall short of good seem to cavil these days. Social networking makes it all too easy to fire off an undignified response to criticism and it happened to me far too often last month. Take, for example, the weary pantomime (I won’t specify which one because I’m a kind soul at heart) that produced nothing but the occasional forced titter from dads for two-and-a-quarter hours.
Neither dame nor funny guy seemed to be able to time a joke or hook up with the audience. My comment to this effect led to an angry tweet from someone on the production team informing me that these two actors are “masters of pantomime”. Really? Well it certainly didn’t show at the matinee I attended.
Then there was a tweet, in respect of a different show accusing me of not being there at all. And someone else accused me of failing to understand their show. How dare they? I also had a rather sad (open) Facebook conversation with an actor desperate to know whether I’d found anything good at all in the show she’d taken part in.
“I find all these responses totally inappropriate. Cast and creatives simply have to take criticism on the chin.”
I find all these responses totally inappropriate. Cast and creatives simply have to take criticism on the chin. Nobody wants, or sets out to, rubbish anyone else’s work but critics have a duty to tell the truth as they see it. In fact I don’t think it’s healthy for critics and actors/creators to hobnob too much either virtually or actually when there’s a show to review because they are, in a sense, on opposite sides.
I am sometimes invited to first night parties and I never accept – partly because I don’t think it’s fair for actors to have to chat to critics immediately after a show, and anyway I have to rush away to my coffee shop or train office to get the review written and filed pronto. It’s also because it doesn’t feel right for me to cosy up to people of whose performance I then have to write a disinterested critique.
So, all you producers, actors and creators, go on chatting to me via social networks by all means and, of course, invite me to your shows. But I think you then owe it to me – and to your own professional integrity – to pipe down if you don’t like what I write about them.