My Love/Hate Relationship With the Critic
I've been making my directorial debut with Unhappy Birthday an immersive theatre show I've been working on over the last 15 months with Amy Lamé. The show opened in London at the start of the month, theatre types would call the two week run a 'sell out', I'm more inclined to call it a 'smash hit' but in real language the punters came, enjoyed it and inflated our egos but all of this glory was largely down to the views of other people who were force fed complimentary cake and sweetened with party bags on opening night - the critics.
Unhappy Birthday has already collected more stars than the head waitress at McDonalds's from some of the most respected arts pages bar one. I'm eagerly awaiting the words one woman. 'Eagerly awaiting' should translate as 'manically refreshing her website as often as possible without any Wi-Fi in this sponsored accommodation', only to find it's still not up and I've turned mental in the process of worrying what this woman thinks of my work. I'm not usually one for reviews or worrying if they even enjoyed 'the experience' so this is new territory for me. Trying to talk myself down, I discussed my fears with Lamé who responded with 'of course you're worried, it's your directorial debut and if this goes well you'll get more directing gigs' - this is my fear: that my future career of telling performers what to do is in the hands of a journalist.
Critics have a bit of a reputation for watching your work with what locals up here would call 'a face like a smacked arse' but when I forced her to sit in my eyeline and wear a party hat like everyone else she looked engaged and even LOL'ed - why was I staring at her during the show as if I could predict her review or manipulate her experience? I even nervously introduced myself to her before the show as if to say, "now, I'm a real person please be nice." But she isn't paid to be nice, she's there as an elected official of the lefty middle classes who hang on to every nine letter word she prints whilst sipping their fair trade coffee in Islington patisseries.
Now before we think this post is about criticising the critic I want to get something straight - the art of critiquing is just that, an art: Finely crafted, but like your Nan's water colour challenge, everyone can have a go but very few are Picassos. A great critic gives nothing away and lets you in on everything with adjectives you end up having to Google. As much as I love the idea of 'the people' reviewing theatre and posting it on the plethora of audience sites flooding the net, they are often never read/any good. Critics are people paid to have formalized opinions that we believe and buy into, but their greatest attribute is the power of a readership that can see your shows sell out or close too soon.
Ultimately the success of any piece could be down to just one person's grasp of your work, this one person has the power to sway the latte lovers of N1, otherwise known as theatregoers. But who wants an audience of theatre goers when you could fill the rafters with real people and make exciting things happen?
Does it matter what the critics think? Yes.
Do I care? Possibly too much/probably not enough.