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No correspondence will be entered into

I’m often thanked for my “kind words” in reviews. Well, it’s nice that people are pleased but actually I never write kind words. I simply describe and respond to what I see and hear as truthfully as I can, using my years of experience and accrued knowledge.

I’m mindful too that, like all critics (and other human beings), I have personal tastes which are bound to affect my response although – like any half decent professional – I do my utmost to be fair. I am well aware, for example, that however weak a show is (or however much I dislike it) a number of people have worked very hard on it. Bear that in mind and think long and hard before you rubbish someone’s work – is the advice I give wannabe reviewers if I’m asked to talk to them.

Nonetheless if a producer invites in the critics then he or she – and the company – has to take on the chin what the critics say. That’s how it works. Unfortunately this is not always understood. Of course most theatre creators understand but a tiresome few do not.

A few years ago I wrote a favourable review of a show whose needy director then contacted me to take me to task for not mentioning her name in the copy. “I need it for my CV” she said. What? It isn’t my job  to provide soundbites for CVs and other advertising. I’m there to critique the show. In this particular case every word I wrote was an implicit credit to her and she was referenced in the side panel anyway. Of course I refused point blank to ask my editor to alter it.

Then there are people who whine because I’ve suggested that some aspect of their show was substandard. I’ve even, once or twice, been accused of being too stupid to understand what the show was about. Let me put it plainly: If the meaning/message of the show is not clear to me then the director, cast and company have failed to communicate. And I shall say so publicly. End of.

And some people think it’s OK to contact me and make a fuss if I make a point they disagree with or – worse – mention, say, sexual orientation or race in a way that they don’t like. These people are what I call “red flag” readers. They simply see that their pet issue has been referred to so all the lights flash and reason goes out of the window. Typically, they don’t even read what I’ve actually said before accusing me of homophobia, racism or whatever.

This is the deal. I will alter copy – or ask whichever editor it is to do so –  if it’s a factual error such as a misspelt name. Otherwise, I stand by everything I write in any review and will not make changes just because someone’s feelings may be a bit bruised. In fact I’m not prepared even to discuss it. We’re all grown up. If you invite a critic then criticism is what you’ll get. Accept it with grace.

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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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