It’s always daunting to get a review.
They are not just someone’s opinion about your work – they are someone’s PUBLIC opinion about your work. A review broadcasts certain aspects of your work to a wide audience. It can shape someone’s perception of you in an instant, even if they’ve never met you or seen your work.
My first experience of a show review was in Edinburgh in 1991. This was before the star system was being used broadly. I prefer the star-less review system: it makes you read a review, not just take in how many stars it deserves. “Amateur and limpish, but serious and dignified,” was the line I remember from the review of our Imperial College DramSoc production in Edinburgh, years before I decided to become a professional “theatre person”. I was a Biology student then, performing in my first ever (and in fact, my only) Alan Ayckbourn play “Mr.A’s Amazing Maze Plays”. I was playing Susie, the girl who went into Mr Accousticus’ house to look for all the sounds he’d stolen. With my fellow actor who played Neville, my dog, we had to go from one room to another, depending on the audience’s choice. Well, except for the preview, when we hadn’t quite finished rehearsing all the different locations and so the narrators had to trick the audience into choosing the locations we’d prepared.
I thought that review in The List was spot on. We were amateurs. But we also serious about what we were doing. I was 19 and had never had a drama lesson in my life. I could take “limpish”.
Being reviewed later on as a professional, mainly as part of a company I was trying to grow, was a little bit tougher. But you learn to read and move on. You celebrate the good times (Time Out Critic’s Choice!) and you bin away the bad times… Luckily, we could bin away then. Now with the internet, it’s slightly tougher to get over it.
Now by publishing books, I’m opening up myself to more public criticism. For me, an ok review that is well written is sometimes more welcome than a “five star review” that doesn’t say much about the book. Reviews are there to guide the reader, not just to say whether we liked it or not. That’s why I’m so happy at having come across a five-star review that I also think is spot on.
Thanks, reviewer, wherever you are!