Sunday, 12 September 2010

Reviewing the Fringe: a review (Part III)

Part III : Stuck in the middle with several of you

So, previously I linked to an article by Alex Horne because it namechecked me and included a mortifying use of the phrase “OMG”. But there’s a line in there which really irked me and caught the eye of a few other reviewers. It’s this:
“Precious performers like me tend to sniff at the traditional reviewers’ star system, whereby newspapers give a show a mark out of 5 and thus can dismiss a year’s work with a simple 3 stars (or worse).”

A dismissal, eh? I’m going to cite myself here, and include some quotes from the three-star reviews I gave during the Fringe:
“For anyone with any kind of interest in comedy, this is an unmissable experience.”
“Extremely funny, but also observed with the painful honesty.”
“Borders on brilliant”

I mention these because they hardly count as dismissals. Sure, the reviews also include some negative things which is why they are three stars rather than five, but all of the three-star reviews I gave had something nice to say about the show. The same is true of most other three-star reviews I read, and therein lies the problem:

Nobody reads three-star reviews.

It makes sense, of course. During the Fringe, people are as bombarded by reviews as they are fliers and they have to exercise quality control. A one-star review will get a read because everyone likes a good bitch; a five-star review will get read because people want the hot tips. But a three-star review often may as well not exist.

Sometimes this is really frustrating. A couple of acts like Robert White and Nat Luurtsema had huge potential but slightly unpolished acts. I’d like to have given them four stars in the hope of encouraging people to see them, but they didn’t really deserve it. So they get a useless three-star review. (The ironic thing here being that the 0-star review White got on Chortle was probably a bigger profile-builder than any single review printed over the whole Fringe).

Speaking to other reviewers, there’s a general consensus that three-star reviews are the ones that really make you feel like people are only looking at the rating and nobody’s reading the copy underneath. It’s quite grim, because reviewers are writers and all want to be read.

Of the acts I reviewed, I only discussed my review with one: JoJo Sutherland. I met her on the very last day of the Fringe and accidentally let my name slip. She looked homicidal for a moment and I was about to launch into a defence of the three-star review (basically everything above, except delivered with a greater fear of being murdered). She smiled and gave me a huge hug, and thanked me for the nice review. She had actually read it and considered the text. That, folks, was probably my favourite moment of the whole Fringe.

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