The Tab Guide to reviewing the reviewer
Controversial comments are congenial, but Rosie Brown implores you to hold back on the bitching.
It’s no secret that us Cambridge folk enjoy a good debate, a controversial opinion, reacting to anything we disagree with and, as one Tab theatre editor said, ‘creating an inadvertent shitstorm’.
But where do we draw the line in the case of reviews, which unlike abstract or light-hearted articles about weed smokers, actually involve personally critiquing someone’s work, most likely even someone familiar or that we’re actually acquainted with?
I think there’s no question about whether or not the regular theatre-goer, or indeed the average Joe can go ahead and comment. Comments are great. Comments are good. Comment comment comment. They arouse debate, they stimulate alternate opinions, and they are sometimes genuinely useful.
The real debate lies in whether it is ‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ to respond to a review in the comment section, or anywhere really, if one is involved in the production in some way; whether that be as an actor, director, writer or production team member. I refer in particular to those reviews which are negative, or which single out a particular element of the show or an actor as being unsuccessful in some way, rather than the reviews which shower a show with praise (because you are very unlikely to disagree with a good review… ‘But no, I thought my production was shit’).
The reviewer is supposed to be looking at the show objectively, something that someone involved in the show is surely unable to do. I’m not denying that fact that it is possible to ‘review the reviewer’ and respond to particularly pieces of criticism; perhaps a small explanation pertaining to a particular artistic decision; the set design for example, or a particular character choice, if the response is structured and composed in the right way.
What I don’t like, and what I think is completely inappropriate, is when the comments become personal. When people in the comment section start personally attacking the reviewer; questioning their ‘training’, their general knowledge of the theatre, and even resorting to outright rudeness and pretty bold, and sometimes offensive, allegations.
By all means call the reviewer out if the review is badly written; if the grammar is bad and the sentences don’t make sense; if opinions seem to have been plucked out of thin air and if it is entirely obvious that the reviewer didn’t actually attend the show. However I am tired of reading personal attacks of the reviewer themselves in the comment sections, rather than the work they have produced, especially when the people commenting are involved in the production themselves. It’s unprofessional, and it makes you look like a sour grape, and certainly won’t persuade me to see your show.
Feel free to comment.