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Don’t alienate critics

Last week I went on a warm summer Sunday afternoon to The Scoop at More London near London Bridge to see The Wizard of Oz.

I’d been commissioned to review by one of my regular editors and booked in by a quite well known PR person from whom the last word I had was “All booked in. Thanks, Susan”. The release informed me that there were several press performances over the weekend and I chose which to attend. Notice I am not naming names although it’s tempting.

When I got there the manager told me that all the press performances had been cancelled. What? Why had no one let me know? Neither my editor nor I had been informed although, to be fair, the PR thought he had told us and later apologised.

Well the manager let me in – not that he had much choice. This is free theatre open to anyone, after all.  He told me that there had been technical issues and gave me a free a programme. One of the cast explained the problems to the audience before the show started too.

So I saw it and, being the commensurate professional that I try to be, I ignored the technical issues and wrote a reasonably favourable 3 star review praising some of the performances.

Sparks flew when the PR found out about this. Oh no, no no. The company definitely did not want the show reviewed as I had seen it. I was furious and he said my attitude was “disappointing”.

Really? I think the disappointment was all mine.  It was an entire Sunday afternoon wasted. I left home at 2.30 and got back there at 6.30 and I’d  sat for a whole hour in the most uncomfortable venue in London, worse even than the Globe.

Anyone who knows me in real life or through social media knows that I am an extremely busy diary juggler. I  simply do not have four hours to throw away because someone else has been inefficient and, to be honest, a bit prima donna-ish.

Anybody could have walked into that venue last Sunday and written anything, anywhere they chose to about the show. That is why I have now published the spiked review on my website. http://susanelkin.co.uk/articles/wizard-oz-susan-elkin-reviews/ It salvages a tiny bit of my wasted effort. Production companies and PRs are not actually able to control who writes about what, how and where. And quite right too.

There’s a more general lesson here though. Most companies and the marketing staff they employ, or work with, are desperate to get critics through the door. I probably receive ten invitations for every one I can accept and as it is I cover a show of some sort almost every day. Probably best, therefore, not to alienate me.

Like every other critic/reviewer/journalist I also have, or try to have, a life and mine is not without its personal problems as many readers will know. I really didn’t feel like traipsing up to London Bridge last Sunday but of course I went because I’m a pro.  Had I been informed of the situation I could have got the ironing done, written a feature, mowed the grass or simply sat in the garden with a book and a G&T or had a much needed kip – all much more attractive  options than going out to be treated with such casual disdain.

The message of course – and, thank goodness, most companies are already well aware of it – is that if you want your show reviewed, both this one and the ones you’ll produce in the future, then you need to treat critics with basic courtesy. “If you prick us do we not bleed?”

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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