What is the purpose of Preview Nights

To Pre or Not to Pre – That is the Question!

FringeReview recently received an email from a performing company begging us NOT to come to their preview night. The reason given was that the show would probably not have “bedded into the venue” and could we review it a week later. I didn’t know whether to be gob-smacked or to nod sagely.

What is the purpose of a preview night? Certainly it is true that FringeReview has seen many a show on a preview night that becomes a significantly better show even a week later. We have even re-reviewed a show that clearly hasn’t bedded in properly to a venue, but has shown so much promise that we’ve given it a second chance.

The nature of Fringe Festivals – their busyness and focus on packing in show after show – often means that get-in times are almost zero and that a preview might therefore be a bit of a risk in terms of getting reviewers and critics in. What there certainly is no excuse for is not to be ready in terms of lines learned and blocking sorted.

Or is there? Actor George Dillon has often used previews, and even the first week of a run to bed in a show. I’ve seen him wander across to a technician’s box mid-Hamlet and look at his script. And yet, for George, this actually is all about being in the zone of the play, bringing the piece to life, drenched in the adrenalin and glorious panic of painfully inhabiting the skin of another human spirit – in this case, a character on the stage.

Should previews be finished, neat, slick products, or should they be filled with anticipation, a first taste on the lips of something “bubbling towards a boiling point of excellence”?

Should performers unashamedly present their “draft” that will quickly get better as they literally “realise” the new venue they are performing in, the new town they have arrived in for up to a month of a run?

Perhaps it is all about communication. If you want your preview to be a first night for critics and friends, a kind of “launch” of your show’s rocket into the Festival space, then that needs to be made clear. This is a preview where you promise to hit the ground running, and we judged on how well you run from the word “go!”. If you want the preview to be a “bedding in of the show” in an unfamiliar space, then say that clearly as well. Allow it to be accounted for in your programme notes and publicity. And, in that case, it might well be better to get the critics in a day or two later, to review the piece when it is truly ripe for review. Saying “well it was our first night” isn’t a good excuse for a bad review. I think it is all about communication and expectation.

Personally, I prefer George Dillon’s approach. The development of a show is a breathing in. The performance is a long out-breath. But there is a transition point which is exciting, where rehearsal becomes public performance, but where there is a necessary uncertainty. The paint of the rehearsal processes should not be dried artificially with a hair-dryer of “time management”. To not be fully ready could be an act of incompetence; but it could also be an act of courage, or confident patience and hey, screw the critics…we’ll do this in our own time, for the sake of our art.