Dealing with Poor Reviews


Getting a poor review for a show is usually an emotional and personal thing. We take criticism personally.

“A pile of theatrical poop”

“The best sleep I have ahd in years”

“About as physical as a cloud – one star”

I always find it ironic and amusing that a publication such as Three Weeks, which has a team of mostly young writers, learning the media ropes, is villified if a review is very negative and trumpeted as an organ of taste and distinction (not to mention expertise and wisdom) if a review hits five stars. We get VERY subjective when we are “subject” to being made an “object” of someone else’s critique, especially if it is very negative.

Early in a run, a one-star or damning review can feel devastating, even disastrous. The old americanised adage “Get over it!” is mostly true here. We need to move on quickly, take on board any genuine criticism, either stick to our guns, or improve the product!

Most negative reviews often do still contain a nugget of praise and these can be culled and put onto our posters, even if the rest of the review isn’t good. The vast majority of the public won’t read the whole review, or even clock its existence,  but they may see your posters or flyers.

Most of all, remember this: A bad review is not the end of the world, is not seem by most potenial audience, and shouldn’t get you down too much.

If a review is nasty and destructive, again I would recommend just moving on from it quickly. Editors are very, very reluctant to pull reviews, even if they are tripe, or just plain nasty. Though it has been done. The show “Bonnie in Brighton” had a hateful review pulled from the Scotsman by an editor who agreed that Brighton bashing seemed to the heart of the review, with little genuine critique of the show.

If you have faith in your show and believe it to be quality work, a bad review will probably be a rogue review and you’ll get better ones coming along soon enough. Be calm and patient. In Fringe festivals, many reviewers are young would-be journalists cutting (and sharpening) their critical teeth at your expense and there’s little to be done about it. If you invite them in…

So, you notice a terrible review of your show. There it is, on paper, and online.  One star. What do you do?

Try to extract any good quotes from it and use them. Don’t be blind to the whole review. Have faith in your work. Take a good hard look at the review and see if there is anything useful you can learn from it, anything that should be taken on board. Get someone you trust, not involved in your show to read it and see if they can help you be objective about what you are reading.

See past the irritation and anger or disappointment you feel. But most of all, remember, it won’t kill off your show. Though your own negative reaction to it  might!

If you get a lot of negative reviews then there’s a sign that either:

1. You might be way ahead of your time or so amazingly different that NO ONE GETS IT. In this case, stick yo your principles – good will out one day!


2. Your show needs some radical improvement, as several different critical opinions are negative about it. In this case look for common themes and work with director, stage crew and cast to improve it.

Build in the possibility your show may need some work.

Reasons for a rogue poor review might include:

– the reviewer is more interested in harsh journalism than real critique

– the reviewer has a conflict of interest and, for some reason, is bashing your show for a hidden motive

– the reviewer is biased, bigoted and hostile to your show’s style or genre

– the reviewer has personal problems, is depressed or generally a very negative person

Reasons for a genuinely written poor review

– your show has weaknesses that you haven’t planned for

– the venue didn’t work in favour of your show

Be open to what the review says, even if you don’t agree with it. Be prepared to ride out the storm, or be open to change and improvement. Most of all, move on quickly and look forward to the next, better review.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Nigel Lovell says:

    Remember that if you pick up a One Star review you qualify to appear on the Worst Show on the Fringe at the Bristo Bar & Kitchen, 41 Lothian St. EH1 1HB 12.30-13.30 3rd-24th August.

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