I love getting a review. Another human being sitting down to critically engage with the piece of work I’ve made – what’s not to like? It’s the ultimate kind of ego stroke, of course I like it. But that doesn’t mean I have liked all my reviews.
There was that one where they described what I did as “a sort of gentle rap.” Or the one where they said I was “about as funny as river blindness.” Or the one when an anonymous internet reviewer said I “badly need sterilising.” I have now had a vasectomy, I hope he’s pleased. Mostly though my reviewers and I agree on my utter, utter brilliance. The only thing we haggle over is stars.
Stars is a big deal up here. Most punters are blind to them. They read the words and think “wow that sounds good” and wonder what our problem is. Meanwhile the comedians and poets and producers drown their sorrows saying things like: “but it read like a four!” Or “what do I have to do to get a five!” Or “they gave me four stars in 2005, are really suggesting my magnum opus is akin to a student play!!!!!” And so on and so on.
Rating shows out of five is obviously reductive and unable to do justice to the complexities of the art. That is of course why you have the review. But you can’t easily plaster a review to your posters or staple them to your flyers. Instead, you dazzle with a big list of stars. For this purpose fours are good, but you really want five.
It’s amazing how you can get behind the the shit star rating system when your show is getting five star reviews. I’ve had about 90 reviews at Edinburgh over the years. I’ve probably had about 20 five star reviews, 15 or so threes, and all the rest fours. Apart from the two star review Steve Bennett from Chortle gave me and Joel Stickley for Who Writes This Crap? in 2008. Not that I remember it or anything. We were not stilted!
So I’ve had a good time from the reviewers. I shouldn’t complain. And I don’t really. That said, I’ve always felt like I deserved a good time. I feel like I have brought good work to the Fringe. Nearly all my three star reviews were in 2007 for a show that wasn’t ready and rightly met with lukewarm responses. The rest of the time I’ve had nearly all four stars with one or two publications bestowing the magic five on me.
Getting a five feels a bit like alchemy. After all I picked up a few fives in 2006 for my first poetry show, what was really an immature piece of work from someone who was just finding his feet. Whereas I think I only scraped a single five in 2013 for Essex Lion, which was a much stronger show. However, if you read the actual reviews from 2013 you would get a more accurate sense of what kind of calibre of piece I had created. There is an element of luck involved. The right reviewer has to see the show on the right day. They have to not be feeling to jaded or not just seen another show they preferred. The Stars have to align (if you’ll excuse the pun).
But those five nuggets of gold from the right publication (Guardian, Scotsman, List etc) can ignite a run and make a real difference to your life #rent # food etc. So even though it seems silly, it matters to us. We can’t help but hope for the perfect five.
Here’s another four star review for Johnny Bevan. Read the words. I’ll take it.