Monday, 3 September 2012

No Stars / Reviews Round-up

A blog-post in two parts.

1. No Stars
Before we went to Edinburgh this month, I was planning to write something on here about review star ratings, and how I try not to acknowledge them. I really dislike them as an artist, but also as an audience member. This is a widely debated issue, so, briefly: for me it feels that whatever gets written in the review, it is always overshadowed by the number of stars. No one puts three stars on their flyers, do they? As someone who makes shows, who understands how much work goes in to developing and making a piece, the star-rating system is, for me, a woefully blunt instrument with which to assess or discuss or recommend work. So, since Presumption toured in 2007, we've avoided putting star-ratings on our publicity as much as possible.

But if you go to Edinburgh, we thought, and refuse to quote star-ratings on your flyers, aren't you basically shooting yourself in the foot as far as getting an audience is concerned? So for our trip to (the frankly brilliant) Northern Stage at St Stephens as part of the Edinburgh Fringe this year, we (I) conceded and put 4 stars and a nice quote from Exeunt Magazine on the flyer and in the brochures. I realise, retrospectively, that this was a bit silly, and if we were going to acknowledge stars for the print we should have put all of our 4 star reviews on the flyer. Because if you only quote one set of stars in Edinburgh, it looks like they're the only stars you've got...

Part of me was hoping that in Edinburgh we would pick up both a 1 star and a 5 star review, to complement the 2, 3, 4 and 4andahalf (thank you, Public Reviews) -star reviews we picked up on tour (I seem to remember that both Chris Goode's Hippo World Guest Book and ...Sisters got this full range of reviews, which I thought was brilliant, and would have been pleased to be in such company). But we didn't.

The star-ratings issue came up in a really interesting discussion between a group of artists, writers, critics and marketing officers at a Dialogues day at St Stephen's in August. Dialogues is an new initiative set up by Maddy Costa and Jake Orr to facilitate greater discussion between people who make theatre and people who write about it (with the understanding of course that many people do both). It felt like the start of a really positive development to me, with some good discussion and healthy disagreement (notably on the stars issue - though not solely along artist/critic lines as you might expect). There's a nice response to the day by Catherine Love, here.

But I didn't get time to do that, and now we are post-Edinburgh, and the reviews are in, and, unlike on the tour, where the show divided critics, in Edinburgh the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. But I wanted to acknowledge that "unwritten"  No Stars blog post, before moving on to this reviews round-up, or "Review Dump" as I saw our friend and collaborator Lucy Ellinson refer to such a thing recently. (If you're near London in the next few weeks I heartily recommend you go see Lucy in Erica Whyman/Northern Stage's brilliant production of Will Eno's Oh the Humanity at Soho Theatre).

2. Edinburgh Reviews Round-up
I am aware that this whole entry is in danger of becoming one long humblebrag, but, with the inevitable SPOILER ALERTS if you haven't seen the show, to the business in hand. 

Our Edinburgh coverage produced my favourite responses to What I Heard About the World - quite a few of which do not have star-ratings attached.

Alice Malseed's reading of the work on her blog Spiel is, for me, really on the money:
All these things happen gradually and suddenly.

And on the New Art blog, Wojtek Ziemilski produced a really interesting and personal response:
how much of my world view is just about making it easy on myself?

Of people actually reviewing, Dorothy Max Prior wrote a fantastically detailed (so much so it gets an extra SPOILER ALERT) and positive review for Total Theatre Review:
bridging the gap between 'new writing' and 'live art'.
On the back of which (I imagine) the show was nominated for a Total Theatre Award. We didn't win, but it was a real pleasure to be on such a great shortlist.

And although she didn't review it in the paper, Lyn Gardner did a lovely 'homage' to the show on the Guardian Theatre Blog:
Third Angel's collected gems offer as informative a take on the world as any government statistics.

Catherine Love wrote a lovely, thoughtful review for Exeunt.

Fringe Biscuit's review was so succinct (because it is a tweet) I can quote it entirely:
What I Heard About The World, St. Stephen's. A fiery show that provokes and unsettles with striking, often brutal storytelling. Amazing.

The Telegraph found the show:
a reminder of the best and worst of human behaviour, by turns hilarious and moving.
Although like several other reviewers, Laura Barnett wonders about how many of the stories are true. 

So, to be clear. They're all true. Because if we put in stories that we know are false, how can we expect you to believe any of it? With this piece we're specifically interested in the way true stories are used and repeated (more on that here), rather than lies and urban legends (that's another show). 

Fest called us entertaining, inventive and hugely informative.

Broadway Baby called us Worldly Wise.

Fringe Review proclaimed us a Highly Recommended Show.

Public Reviews found the show Challenging in the very best of ways.

And for Theatre is Easy, the show was beautifully different... A Must See!

[I've noticed, writing this up, that I have used "the show" and "us" or "we", interchangeably. A 'tell' there, of course, about why we can be so sensitive...]

That, as far as I know, is it for reviews. The Twitter response was overwhelmingly positive, thanks to everyone who took the time to see the show and then tweet about it, tell people about it, write about it, talk to us about it. We really appreciate the feedback and the discussion.

Although there are no other dates actually confirmed at the moment, we are optimistic that What I Heard About the World will tour internationally next year. We're still collecting stories, too, and Story Map will visit Hatch, Leicester, on 14 October. So please do keep sending us stories.