Please note that, as of August 2013, FringeReview is ceasing the use of star ratings. We have replaced these with
RECOMMENDED, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and OUTSTANDING. The Following article still has value in this discussion, so we have kept it!
In defense of silence – why we don’t publish one or two-star reviews
The right to silence isn’t really well understood in these mistrusting times of win-lose and hidden agendas. It is often assumed the silence hides a hidden agenda; silent looking has been parodied in the worlds of Harry Enfield as “What are YOU looking at- silent eye contact is a judgmental invasion of another’s’ “space”.
Silence can be seen as the greedy hoarding of secrecy in an age where people publish their most personal thoughts and affairs on their Facebook profiles and status messages.
Silence is often called “weakness” and “fear to publish”. And, of course, you must be “hiding something.” In the theatre world perhaps very ironically, silence is fundamental to performance.
The pauses in a play or a piece of physical performance, the silences are vital; sometimes they are “telling” in relation to a narrative or an “effect.” Sometimes they create necessary calm or space for an audience to disgust, to breathe, or to enjoy the tension or mood of a piece.
For FringeReview, when a reviewer sees a show that is deemed by the reviewer to be poor theatre, she/he – in terms of publication – decides upon silence. One or Two star shows (Less than good, or poor examples in the genre) are not published, but are offered as private feedback to the performing company (an offer not always taken up, making the silence almost total!).
Why don’t we “speak out” about bad shows? It is because of the mode of expression chosen by the writers of this publication. The mode of expression is one of seeking to speak publicly about what we find to be good, very good, or outstanding. On FringeReview you enter a place where only the good, very good, or excellent has been chosen. The weeding of our garden is done silently, quietly.
One practical reason is a belief that at least one publication in the theatre and arts world performs a unique service to its readers and potential theatre audience is it selects on behalf of the readers what is good, and publishes and celebrates that. A kind of filter, a “good food guide” of theatre.
We don’t publish a list of places NOT to eat at, for we find an abundance of places TO eat at, some unmissable. Seeking out excellent is not a cheesy thing, and choosing NOT to speak about the poor quality is not hiding or withholding.
It’s a mode of expression that is very practical. If our publication’s reviews are quality and invite and achieve trust from our readers, the publication becomes a reliable, trustworthy place to find, among the “Cacophony”, places of clarity, harmony, delight, surprise, challenge and peak experience.
Finding a five star show becomes a cause of celebration; so we publish. Finding something that is poor because an opportunity either for silence, or for a more quiet conversation, one-one where potential can be explored, feedback respectfully given and where possible, innovation and improvement embarked upon.
It isn’t always an easy process giving difficult feedback as a reviewer. it becomes a much more healthy and effective process if it can be done one-one, in a small group, and with a spirit of constructive improvement at the heart. Publishing negativity can also be a useful service.
It can serve as a warning for an audience of what shows to avoid. There are many such publications. Where there is so much choice, such as a Fringe Festival, the list of “what not to sees” can be an important list in choosing “what to see”, But so can a good theatre guide as well.
It often depends on the reader or potential audience member. Some prefer to root out the bad, and even enjoy reading the damning reviews of other’s attempts to be excellent. Others look to seek out the good, and look for the tour guides through the theatre domain. FringeReview enjoys the silence; the publication is a place where you’ll find reviews and previews, selected by people passionate about theatre, of shows we recommend. Go see this! Go see that! If you see NOTHING else, go see this! You’ll see a reliable guide to what to see. What you won’t see nor hear, are the silences that make that reliable selection possible.
But the silence makes this very useful guide possible. Our silences make what we say all the more clear and useful to our readers who are looking for shows to see. And enjoy. And love. And see again!