Reviewing plays I haven’t seen

6 Feb

Recently I received a polite inquiry from a publicist asking whether I intended ever writing a response to her current show.

I replied, politely, I did not.

She asked, more politely, why not?

I replied, dumping the pretense of politeness, that I’d never been invited.

And then I got to thinking, why not write up the show anyway?

My good friend Paul Gilchrist, from subtlenuance, tells me that one of his productions was written up by a reviewer who hadn’t seen the show. (Apparently it was four or five years ago, but it was a slow night at the box office, and that being such a rare occurrence in independent theatre, Paul remembers the evening well.) Two comp tickets were held at the door, but were never claimed. It happens. Hard to believe though it is, sometimes events in people’s lives take precedence over theatre. Paul quietly wished the absent reviewer well, and then forgot all about it. And two days later the review came out. It was entirely positive. And entirely gleaned from other reviews. There seemed little reason to complain.

Now, if other writers can do that, why not me?

Paul not attending a show

Paul not attending a show

After all, the whole business takes time. Firstly, there’s the inconvenience of having to actually go to the theatre. Then you have to sit still, and relatively quietly, for what can seem an age. And then, afterwards, there’s the bothersome process of arranging a series of cliches into a review.

Many reviewers minimise the time cost by composing their responses quickly, say on their iPhones on the way home in the cab. (Not an option for me, because of my professional integrity, and the fact my phone is only one model after the tin can and string.)

For me, writing up a 90 minute play takes longer than 90 minutes. And unfortunately, as I enjoy writing, if something’s gotta give, it’s going to be attendance at the show.

Of course, I could write my response during the show, and hence kill two birds with one stone. (An unintended advantage of this would be that I’d never write spoilers again, as the usher is going to be asking me to leave while I’m still describing the set.)

However, there is a problem that might arise from writing my response during the performance: I like to proofread my work by reading it aloud, and I fear this might adversely affect the audience’s enjoyment of the play, as the comparison is unlikely to be favourable.

So it’s probably best I stay at home.

One benefit of not going to shows before I write is that I’ll no longer be bothered by tiresome and trivial scruples, like accuracy or fairness.

I also won’t be at risk of actually being affected by the production. (There is a limited to how effectively the shield of critical judgement can protect you. From being moved. Or touched. Or challenged. Or confronted. Or accused. Or convicted.)

But perhaps the greatest benefit is that I won’t have to wait for an invitation.

Veronica Kaye

6 Responses to “Reviewing plays I haven’t seen”

  1. Gina February 6, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    My lord! Paul knows how to work hard these days, doesn’t he? Waves at Paul with a grande salute from Canberrra.

    I have often wondered if various reviews written are just opinions without merit (non attendance) and I suspected that more often than not, there would’ve had to be an attendance, or either the reviewer has an amazing inbuilt sensor between their eyes that can zoom into the venue and watch the whole production for free from afar!


    Then again, if the reviews are favourable, who’s complaining? LOL

    • veronicakaye February 7, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

      Hi Gina, Thanks for reading!!!
      I suspect Paul’s story of the absent reviewer is pretty rare! However, I’m also think audiences (and publicists) sometimes blur preview articles (which are written before the show opens and are often really positive) with actual reviews.

  2. lisathatcher February 7, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    Laughing out loud in public while reading on your phone is surely only slightly less rude than crying out “No!” Which I also did!
    Fantastic post.

  3. Nikita Jacka July 3, 2014 at 4:14 am #

    I was just bought to this post via Twitter. This is hilarious! Thanks for the insight.

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