What is a theatre review, and what is a theatre critic?

What is a theatre review, and what is a theatre critic?

They may seem simple questions but topics that seem to be vexing many people at the moment.

Is there a difference between a theatre reviewer and a theatre critic? Should reviews only be positive and not cover any negative aspect of a production? Is the aim of a review purely there to promote?

Given the changing landscape of theatrical coverage it’s an emotive subject but this isn’t venturing into that oft discussed can of worms. Instead let’s think about why we have reviews and what should be in them.

Andrew Clarke, arts editor at the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper based in Suffolk recently wrote an article in the paper on the need for professional critics

Andrew quotes one of his mentors as giving him the advice that ‘…there was no room for critics in local newspapers’. He goes on to expand that there is a desperate need for reviewers. In their view, a critic gives a more academic and specialised piece while a reviewer is more audience focused.

Should there be different terms?

Of course, a writer needs to pitch their words for their respective audiences but should a reviewer have some background knowledge to support their opinion and, conversely, should a critic not have an appreciation of the general audience expectation?

Andrew continues his discussion on constructive criticism and the need of a reviewer to be able to offer reasons why something doesn’t work. That need for constructive and balanced reviews is an interesting point. Over the last couple of months, two editors have contacted me asking me to supply reviews for their respective publications. Both stated they only wanted reviews that gave positive coverage of a production and that their house style didn’t allow for any negative comments. What value does this policy offer either its readership or the productions they cover?

Objectivity is key – but even that cornerstone of theatrical etiquette is causing some debate, with a recent Guardian blog asking if it is possible for theatre critics to be truly objective.

A good reviewer/critic should be able to articulate their view without allowing personal tastes to colour that view. Surely an open mind is a pre-requisite? If you only review productions that you think you will like does this limit your credibility?

The future of theatre criticism has also been the subject of a debate organised by Young People In The Arts with one of the panelists, Mark Shenton, summarising the event on his Stage Blog.

So there is much debate and no definitive answer. The theatre review is a changing beast and so it should be; it needs to flex in response to both changing audiences and also changes in theatre practice. Whatever its future form, it does need to remain balanced, objective and constructive – however uncomfortable some of those reviews may be.

This blog originially written for http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/

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