Sunday, 2 September 2012
I've had several comments from visitors to my blog in recent weeks about my 'generous' reviews of theatre that they — in some ways, often quite rightly — think was dreck.
I see quite a bit of theatre. In line with the last couple of years, thirty to forty shows annually. This year, while I'm a student and not working, that number will probably be around thirty. During much of the mid-2000s, though, that number was often fifty or more per year. That's quite a bit of theatre.
So, I have a lot of productions to compare. I have to say that, over the course of the year, there will probably only be a handful of top-shelf shows that I'll attend. The rest will often range from fun to okay through to 'oh dear'. Yet, more often than not, I find things to engage me and which I can praise, in even the most average of shows.
My reviews on this blog are generally for people who don't see a lot of theatre. So, I try to give a frame of reference for the show, a bit of history about it, and I talk about what I enjoyed in it and what worked. If I thought it wasn't great, I'll also talk about that, and what I think could have been done to improve the quality of the show.
For me, I don't think there's much point panning a show just because it didn't work for me. This is based on my experience attending a large number of shows with an extended group of friends who also see a lot of theatre. Often, our opinions are vastly different on a show. I will come out thinking 'meh'; they will come out thinking 'wow'. I will rave about a person's performance; they will think it was uninspired. It's a truly subjective thing
Much like reading books or seeing films, what appeals to one person will not appeal to others. I don't much like ballet or opera. I understand the discipline and I appreciate the aesthetic of the forms, but I won't voluntarily see these sorts of performances. Yet I have friends whose theatre year is often full of interpretive dance and Wagner.
Also, Melbourne — and indeed the web — is a small place. I really don't want or need to aggravate people by posting angsty reviews of shows. Indeed, too often I've see write-ups of shows that are quite bitchy, or where the reviewer has an ex to grind. More power to them, but that's not my 'thang'. People have strong opinions about their passions, and rightly so. You have only to look at an excellent site like TheatrePeople.com.au, where reader responses to critical reviews can often be scathing.
That's not to say that there isn't a great time to be had at truly bad shows. Honestly, I've seen some very pedestrian shows that have been good to laugh at afterwards. More often than not, though, there's been some wheat amongst the chaff. Some shows may have become legendary for being ordinary. At the end of the day, you need to be able to compare and contrast theatre to get a good sense of what's good and what's not.
It's like 'Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark'. This New York show is doing huge business. Yet virtually everyone I've talked to who's seen it says that it's dreadful. But it's packing them in, so a lot of theatre-going people out there are obviously enjoying it. Go figure. It's like 'Fifty Shade of Grey' or most Adam Sandler films; people are enjoying them and they're doing great business, but they're not my cup of tea.
All of this said, perhaps my reviews are too kind. I can wear that. That might change in time. But for the near future, I'm all about encouraging people to go to theatre. There's so much good theatre out there in Melbourne to see. Yes, you'll see some average stuff, but it's same with anything: you take the good with the bad. To paraphrase Mary Sunshine in Chicago: there's a little bit of good in everything.
But not in 'Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark'.