Before I get into any more theatre reviews, I felt it was important to voice my view on reviewing previews.
Traditionally, it is seen as bad form for the press to review a show that is still in previews. However, I think as social media usage only increases, the review process will need to adapt. Several UK papers were criticised last week for reviewing the first few previews on Hamlet at the Barbican. It has been said that reviews should have been held back until press night on August 25, and that previews are not yet the fully polished, end product.
I think that’s a load of rubbish.
Firstly, preview tickets for this sold-out-a-year-in-advance production of Hamlet cost exactly the same as all other tickets. Audiences should, therefore, be expecting the same level of professionalism during previews as during the final performance.
Because, let’s face it: scheduling time for rehearsals is not the audience’s responsibility. As anyone who has ever been in a school production will be able to tell you: you have to be ready when the curtain goes up. So to treat the first three weeks – in front of paying audiences who have flown in from around the world – like a dress rehearsal, to work out what works on stage and what doesn’t, is wrong. Obviously, the longer the run and the longer the cast works together, the smoother it will get, but the kinks should be ironed out before you go live. Especially when you charge full price. So don’t use previews as paid-for rehearsal time. Start rehearsals earlier. Also, many small-scale theatre and school productions only get one review – on opening night.
As many theatre-goers use Facebook, Twitter and other social media, opinions about the play will be instantaneous. What will matter to most theatre-goers is how other, ordinary folks, found the play. And I say this as a journalist myself: I’d rather hear a sales assistant’s honest opinion straight away than wait 3 weeks to read what a highly paid theatre critic made of it and why they liked so-and-so’s performance better.
All it takes is a 140-character Tweet, and the word is out. You can’t contain this for up to a month without the message spreading. Maybe it used to be different in the olden days, but this is now.
This doesn’t mean that I think people should make free use of their phones and record performances. Definitely not! That takes away the magic of theatre, and I’d rather see the well-lit promotional pictures than a grainy and blurry shot of the stage from the last row in Circle. But saying whether you did or didn’t like a show and why is fair game.
You wouldn’t wait to review a football team’s performance until they’ve reached the final of a championship, just because they needed to “clear out some kinks.” No, you’d be on their case straight away. You’d praise and criticise and you’d let them know.
I don’t see why theatre, as a constantly changing thing, should be treated differently. If previews are meant to work out the kinks, then how do you know what works and what doesn’t if nobody points it out? Clearly the cast and crew think their way works, otherwise they wouldn’t stage the play that way. But they are too close to it, have seen it in all the stages from read-through to dress-rehearsal, to still look at it critically. It’s just like writing a long text, reading it 100 times and no longer spotting grammatical mistakes or typos.
So yes, I will be reviewing previews. Because I think it’s unfair to only review after a few weeks. Actors – especially professional actors in big budget productions – should be ready to play their part and play it well when they get on stage in front of an audience. A preview is not an excuse for sub-par performances. Paying customers should have the same theatre experience, no matter which show they happen to have tickets for.