We Brits are often stereotyped as being unattractive, excessive tea-drinkers with bad teeth who are either posher than the Queen herself or as cockney as a character from Oliver Twist – apparently, we are uptight and overly polite too. Please. You only need to look around you to know this last part is so far removed from the truth of British life. We are certainly not backwards about coming forwards and I’ve never encountered a British citizen who could pass up a chance to criticize; we love it! From the usual suspects of families, friends, partners and colleagues, to reality show viewers and celebrity magazine readers, we can’t resist highlighting someone else’s flaws in an effort to either feel better about ourselves or prove how knowledgeable we are. About everything. It may be a widespread occurrence but, for the sake of this blog, let’s narrow it down to the area of theatre shall we?
I wrote a blog a few weeks ago on the topic of criticism in the theatre industry that looked at whether it should be accepted as part of the job or directly addressed by those on the receiving end (Is honesty always the best policy?). Opinionated reflection is what shapes the London theatre scene though and, even though the voice of the critic can always be heard, it is often the theatre-going public whose voices carry the furthest. Everybody has an opinion these days and with modern communication resources they can cast that opinion out across the World Wide Web for all and sundry to see – and usually opine themselves. It’s perhaps a sign of the times that these opinions often carry negative connotations however. People are very quick to judge, leaping immediately on what was wrong with something instead of focusing on what was right with it. ‘Reviewing’ blogs are springing up all over the place and long-drawn out discussions on shows and/or performers are carried out through internet forums; that’s not to mention the comments that pop up on sites like Twitter. They will pick at a performer’s voice, looks, age, training, experience and they will pick at a show’s story, music, lyrics, costumes, staging… everything is held under the microscope; hell, these days you don’t even need to have seen a show to decide that you hate it apparently – the founding couple of the abominable Love Should Die group showed us that. A new show or performance is like a live bomb that may or may not explode into pieces and opinion is just one of the little wires connected to the trigger – if that particular wire is full of critical damnation however, then when it’s cut, it’s going to blow the whole thing sky high.
So with the Christmas period upon us extolling good will, seasonal cheer and merriment, here’s a thought: why not say something nice instead?
There’s no reason the preachings of Yuletide can’t extend over to the theatre world is there? Sometimes my profession calls for me to review a production or album, etc, and yes, if I find something bad about it then I pretty much have to include that, but I would much rather give a good review than a bad one. I will always look for the good in something instead of merely scanning for flaws, a practice not all critics follow unfortunately. Like I said, reviewing a show requires a professional eye; when I’m watching/listening to something simply because I wanted to, I try not to analyse every aspect and instead, just let it be and enjoy myself. That’s why I sometimes prefer to either go to the theatre alone or take my young daughter with me, because then I can do that. Other times, I’ll be subjected to a constant stream of nit-picking: “That note was pitchy,” “He messed up that dance step,” “Her voice just isn’t suited to this part,” and so on and so forth… On those occasions, I just want to tell them to shut up for once and let the show do what it exists for: to entertain.
Performers and creatives are used to being criticised and will, more times than not, just let it go over their heads. Let’s face it, if they took to heart every criticism against them it would eventually lead to them losing their minds! A compliment on the other hand, can make the world of difference to someone. Everyone likes to know that what they do counts – a performer’s job is to entertain the audience and draw them into the world that is being created on that stage so, to be told once in a while that they’ve done that for someone is a wonderful thing to hear.
I’ve had some really lovely comments this week from readers who have enjoyed my blogs/reviews on here and they never fail to make me smile. It’s all too easy to criticise, but trust me when I say that you will be remembered more for words of kindness than ones of disparagement. A heartfelt letter, a praising tweet, a sweet card, a thoughtful gift, a stage-door compliment… all and any of these things will mean more to someone than any ‘insightful’ analysis of their work you offer them. There’s always doom and gloom in the world, so if you have the chance to shine a few warm rays of sun on someone’s day, take it! As well as brightening their day, you’ll find that you lift your own positive outlook in the process. Positivity should always be held in higher regard than negativity, so in the spirit of Christmas, I beseech you to go and spread a little around. When you’ve finished reading this, go off and say something nice about someone in the industry. You can tell it to a friend or write it on your Facebook status or even better, say it to that person directly, either in person or in a tweet, etc. However you decide to do it doesn’t matter; what matters is that ‘tis the season to be jolly! Let’s make it so.
Of course, Santa does have those Naughty or Nice lists… If you don’t want a lump of coal in your stocking this Sunday morning, make sure you’re on the right one.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
23rd December 2011