"The beauty of theatre is how subjective it is" is a phrase I've always said. For a while now, I have considered writing a post about what I mean by that but didn't think it would be necessary. Over the last week I have seen multiple occurences of people taking somebody else's opinion as fact, be it a critic or another theatre fan - so the time felt right for me to explain exactly what I mean by this and why you should never let somebody else influence your own mind.
Person A: "I didn't like that show"
Person B: "Ok, thanks, I won't bother seeing it now"
This is a situation I see all too much - on social media, on theatre groups and even in person. I find it very frustrating as not only does it suggest that your own opinion is less valid than someone elses, it can also be incredibly damaging for a show.
You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion. To dislike a show is your right - but the reasons you disliked it are not necessarily true of all shows.
We are all unique individuals and we all have different tastes How boring would it be if we all liked the same thing? If every night The Phantom of the Opera played to a sold out house while every other theatre remained empty because that was the only show we had all agreed to like. It might sound extreme and silly, but that is basically what is being suggested by saying you won't see a show based on somebody else's thoughts,
If person A said to you "I don't like carrots" you wouldn't say "Ok thanks, I don't like them now too", would you? Well, maybe you would - but if that's the case, these words will fall flat on you.
Opinions are brilliant, and I love hearing different opinions of the same shows. There are some huge West End shows I am really not a fan of yet I have friends who love these - and the ticket sales show these are very popular so I am in the minority with my opinion. There are shows that are no longer with us that I wasn't a fan of but have friends who loved them, and even a current show I saw very recently (which shall remain nameless though if you know, you know) has garnered very mixed reviews from theatre fans. I had seen a lot of negative comments before I saw the show and came out of there understanding why as it was a show I really didn't care for myself. That said, there are people who love this show. I don't sit there and think "Well, they're wrong". I think "Good for them. I'm glad somebody liked it more than I did".
What is dangerous is when opinion turns to fact and that is where we need to be careful with how we talk about theatre. There are people who can't decipher between an opinion and a fact and take others opinions as gospel. There are also those who are so arrogant they only see their own opinion as the one truth in this world and won't accept hearing anything else.
Opinion - Cameron Mackintosh is a nice person"
Fact - "The Earth is round" - Sorry, flat Earthers
Again, there is nothing wrong with saying you didn't like a show. We don't all like the same music, we don't all like the same clothes so why should we all like the same shows? If we all liked everything exactly the same, we would be living in a world full of robots where personalities were suppressed. I get annoyed when somebody replies to a comment about how they disliked a show with "You've made up my mind now. I won't see it". Why have they made up your mind for you? Even if you have a history of liking and disliking all of the same things with this person, how do you know for sure that this wouldn't be an anomoly?
This is damaging because it allows people to miss out on things they might find themselves loving, and it also has an impact on the shows themselves. If somebody's opinion on how bad a show is spreads like wildfire, that can impact their ticket sales and might even force the show to close. After theatres have remained closed for 18 months, venues have struggled to keep themselves going and performers have had to change careers due to being told their career choice isn't viable, why would you want to put them through this? If you are reading this, you must be a theatre fan so surely you want to support the industry and every show that's in it, rather than cause them more financial hardship?
When it gets personal, it goes to another level. Some people almost want to see a show fail. And when they can't separate their own opinion from fact, it can get nasty. Recently, I saw somebody post about a brand new show they didn't like (which I did) and comment on how the lead actor is out of their depth and basically wasn't good enough to do the role. I couldn't help but reply about how much I strongly disagreed, but what do you get out of posting something like that? What is somebody shows it to the actor? Are you really the be all and end all of what makes a performer good? Are you Simon Cowell? Cos even he is pretty useless, to be fair. Think before you post - it's not hard.
It's not just theatre fans that do this. There are some that take a critics review at face value. I'm here to reveal something shocking to you - Critics are people too (mostly). What you are reading is one persons take on a show that they may have enjoyed or may have hated. Other factors may have influenced their review as well - they may have gotten out of bed the wrong side that day, they might have eaten something dodgy before the show and spent the whole time desperate for the toilet, or maybe there was someone in the cast who had called them a miserable old git in the past? Why people take critics reviews as fact, I'll never know. I sat behind one critic at a show a few weeks ago. We saw the same show - I absoluitely loved it, he gave it a scathing review. Was I right and was he wrong? Was he wrong and I was right? Or were we both right as both our opinions are equally valid (even if I might just be a blogger).
Let's not forget critics have savaged some of the biggest shows on Broadway and the West End with both Les Miserables and Wicked opening to terrible reviews when they first started. So what do they know anyway?
When I write a review, I like to keep humanity in there. I write with passion which I hope translates when reading it. I love sharing what I loved about the show. And there have been shows I really didn;t care for too much but still wrote a review for. In those, I talk about what I appreciated about the show - because why do you need to be negativer? If I don't like something myself, does that warrant me giving it a 1 star review? Or if I can appreciate that the show had fantastic staging and choreography but something fell flat, does it justify a better review?
No matter what I give a show, it should be irrelevant. Now I'm not telling you to never listen to what I say and disregard all of my reviews in the future (Please don't do that) but what I'm keen for is for you to make up your own mind. Tell me if you agreed with me, tell me if you think I'm talking out of my backside. All I want to do with my reviews is encourage others to see the shows for themselves and hope they enjoy them as much as I did - and even if they didn't, you definitely need the shows you dislike to truly appreciate the ones you love - otherwise, how would you measure them?
If somebody ever replied to one of my reviews or tweets about a show with "You've made up my mind, I'm not seeing it now!" I'd be absolutely mortified. Devastated that I'd taken away somebody's chance to make up their own mind and devastated that I'd lost that show a ticket sale. Perhaps I'm on the wrong track in this culture of influencers - but I'd never want to influence in that way.
Whether you are a reviewer or casual theatre goer, it shouldn't make a difference - you are there because you love theatre and should be appreciating it whether you like the show personally or not. If you go to the theatre and get off on telling people not to see a show, you are not a fan at all and are doing as much damage to the Arts as our neglectful Government. After all we have been through, we should be celebrating that theatre is back and spreading some much needed positivity throughout the West End and further afield. Surely if we want something good to come from this horrible experience, it should be positive change for the future. That can only start with you and your own mindset.
So what do you think? Is there any harm in being negative. Would you ever tell someone not to see a show because you didn't like it? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.com/ATDazzles