This month on the Making Theatre Podcast, Geoff discusses the intricacies, complexities and consequences of reviewing with guest Dan Rebellato.


Ah, to read reviews, or not to read them, that is the question.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on – anxious artists, desperately hoping for a good reception; or unsure audience members, looking to choose which show to buy a ticket for – reviews represent a mixed blessing. On the one hand, a five star, glowing endorsement should make everyone happy: audiences buy tickets, artists feel suitably validated and fluff their feathers accordingly. But it’s just not quite that simple.

What of all the other types of review out there? How should a one star, or no star review be interpreted? What do reviews without star ratings mean? How seriously should we take snap quotes and star ratings on posters advertising shows?

It’s all something of a mine field, with everyone having some kind of vested interest in reviews. The reviewers themselves need to engage their readers, marketing teams want to sell tickets and performers and creative teams seem to be looking for affirmation that their work is worthwhile. Yet it’s very difficult to know exactly what kind of effect reviews have, especially on box office. There are cases where bad reviews have been used to great effect to sell tickets and I have occasionally been put off seeing a show because of fawning good reviews.

Every time one of my plays has its press night, I am reduced to jitters about what the reviews will say

So what can be learned from all this? For one thing, these questions lead me to think that it is so important that reviewers constantly question how and what they are doing, and remain acutely aware of the potential effects of their words. Sure, no-one might read a terrible review, but as Tim Michin’s “Song for Phil Daoust” demonstrates, a vitriolic review can crush an artist. Every time one of my plays has its press night, I am reduced to jitters about what the reviews will say and however much I try to rationalise these fears, they are persistent buggers.

My guest for this episode of Making Theatre is Dan Rebellato, who talked through the complexities of reviewing. One of his points which really stuck with me was that a well written review should capture what the production was, whether or not the reviewer liked it. It’s usually fairly easy to tell what the reviewer thought about what they saw, but a badly written review leaves you with only that, and no real sense of what the production was actually like.

Dan also offered some thoughts about when and how theatre makers should read reviews of their work, but I will leave that to the podcast. Suffice it to say, attempt to never let your work or self-worth depend on the opinion of a reviewer. It certainly won’t help you and I don’t think reviewers want that. But of course, that’s easier said than done, as my own experience demonstrates.

Take risks, be bold, and dare to create work which might be badly received. It’s the only way art will move forward.


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Dan Rebellato:

Any views and opinions expressed in the podcast are those of the author(s) and may not directly reflect the position of Miro Magazine.