The question of the relevance of the theatre critic in this current climate is one which has been much debated recently – I’ve written on the subject myself. All too often, the opinion of the critics seem to be at odds with the general consensus of the theatre-going public, as they savage a production which then turns out to be a huge hit in terms of audience numbers/ticket sales. When Rock of Ages opened, it received some pretty dismal reviews from some well-respected (and some not so well-respected) critics, with one calling the musical, “as unpleasant a pile of theatrical poo as it has ever been my misfortune to step in.” In the critics’ view, it didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of being a success in the West End, yet the positive feedback from audiences has rolled in on a cyclical wave of praise and adulation. It continues to fill the house night after night and with the approach of the ROA film, one can assume another surge of ticket demand is imminent. The audience have managed to well and truly prove the critics wrong – and not for the first time. The West End’s two longest-running musicals, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera were generally panned by critics when they first opened, but over twenty-five years later just look at where they are in the standing of theatre history. Both continue to be two of the most popular shows in the West End, with Phantom earning the accolade of being the most successful show of all time after grossing more than $5.6 billion worldwide, and Les Mis about to be made into a Hollywood film starring Hugh Jackman.
The majority of people involved in the Critic VS Audience debate seem to agree that the voice of the theatre-goer speaks louder than that of the critic. I was recently alerted to the presence of a company which focuses its entire existence around providing a platform for the views of the general public: WinkBall.
WinkBall cover events from all over the UK, as well as overseas, with the sole aim of ‘capturing people’s passion using the emotional power of video’. If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video dresses them up in pretty HD-Definition bows. With offices in London, New York, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Mumbai, and with a spider-web network of reporters in excess of 300, WinkBall has already covered millions of worldwide events and documented the public response to all of them. Their website features video interviews from events in all areas of life, including football, music, entertainment, art and fashion – and of course, theatre.
WinkBall reporters have travelled to a wealth of West End and regional theatres to gather the ‘public’s reviews’ of a variety of musicals, plays and comedies, by speaking to audience members of that particular night’s performance who then give their thoughts on the production, allowing viewers to hear an honest, un-coloured review from the everyday person. They currently have a selection of ten different videos on offer on the website, from: Strictly Gershwin (London Coliseum); The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas (Wyndhams Theatre), The Ladykillers (Gielgud Theatre), Rock of Ages (Shaftesbury Theatre), The Two Worlds of Charlie F (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Grief (National Theatre), Absent Friends (Harold Pinter Theatre), Lovesong (Lyric Theatre), The Festival of the Spoken Nerd and She Stoops To Conquer (National Theatre).
The rise of social networking and blogging means that anybody can give an opinion on anything. The problem with that is that they often don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re writing from a place of bias or negativity, often criticising for the sake of it. What I found so endearing about a site like WinkBall is that the views expressed on the videos come from people who have a love for the subject they’re talking about, meaning there is no nastiness for nastiness’ sake and it is an informed and genuine response to the piece of theatre they have just seen. Critics’ reviews can only serve as a guide to ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ in theatre anyway, but with the amount of instances in which they seem to have got it very wrong, many theatre-goers no longer trust their opinion – so if you want to hear what people like you or me think instead, I recommend you take a look at WinkBall.com.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 14th February 2012