Return to the Forbidden Planet – A Reviewer’s Story

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Noosa Arts Theatre

Dates: NOVEMBER 2, 3, 4, 5 at 7:30pm (Matinee NOVEMBER 5 at 2pm) Bookings http://www.noosaartstheatre.org.au

I didn’t want to review this show. Oh, sure, I was invited to review it, I went with the intent to review it and afterwards I considered reviewing it – for a split second – before my better nature told me that in reviewing it, I might do more damage than had I said nothing at all. Sometimes something tells you that SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN.

Since then, I’ve been asked to review it.

Let me tell you a story instead.

Once upon a time there was a gentleman who was passionate about the theatre and the development of good theatre practice on the Sunshine Coast. He was a prolific writer of great one-act plays, had seen plenty of theatre in his time and had a good reputation in terms of his approach and process during a production period. There were many who could attest to his talent and expertise within the field and he made many friends and won many fans.

The man became published and achieved a degree of fame in his field, to which the response was, “Oh, we would value your opinion” and “Oh, please see and tell us what you think of our brand of theatre.” So he did. He saw all the local theatrical productions and gave valuable, honest responses about the shows, offered constructive criticism to company members and was held in high regard, especially amongst the performers and creative teams in the local area, who raced on a Saturday morning to their nearest newsagent or corner store to buy the paper just to read the reviews (back then, the local paper had an arts section so it was easy to find the reviews).

One day the wind changed and a cloud came over the coastal town. In such a transient place, people hadn’t noticed it immediately, but gradually they started to see that many of the old theatre stalwarts were gone. The composition of many of the companies was changing and the standard of the shows seemed to decline.

The man changed nothing, offering the same terrific feedback, supporting and mentoring the younger members of companies and reviewing honestly and transparently. But the climate of Sunshine Coast theatre had changed and suddenly, his reviews were not eagerly anticipated or hurriedly sought the Saturday morning after opening night. It was sad for those who loved and respected the man, and who were grateful for his insights and gentle honesty. They were the artists who could see how their career and craft might better become them, benefiting from a few wise words from one man. The more intelligent artists recognised that the opinions were those of just one man and so took on board what was useful to them and disregarded the rest, as is an artist’s prerogative.

There were other performers, those who relished their time in the light and lusted after audience approval and the critic’s praise, which were unhappy when they received unfavourable reviews. As far as the man was concerned, he was doing his job and was always happy to elaborate on a contentious point, so that the artist may better understand his perspective. But some performers remained unconvinced and believed so much in their work that they were appalled by the negative reviews and asked that they stop.

As in every good story, the people were divided. Some believed the reviews should be favourable, positive and therefore promote ticket sales, in turn growing audiences and raising standards. Some others believed the reviews should stay honest and let the potential audiences and artists themselves, know where the production could improve and therefore increase ticket sales, grow audiences and raise standards. Still others didn’t give a damn, didn’t start going to the theatre and continued to pay their local footy club unreasonably high prices for pies and peas.

So the man tried to write glowing reviews of all the local shows and when one particularly good show came along, audiences and artists were none the wiser because there was nothing in the man’s new style of writing to distinguish between good and bad. The companies, who had felt his reviews were affecting their dipping ticket sales, had no one to tell them honestly that it was in fact their production elements hurting dipping ticket sales. The audiences stopped trusting the man’s reviews and the artists missed out on valuable feedback because a few noisy company spokespeople had more pride than talent or artistry. The slowly, healthily growing culture of critical viewing, critical thinking and critical conversation became a stormy climate, within which people were insulted when something negative was noted about a performance. They stopped listening and continued making their brand of theatre the way they wanted to. The man moved away, tired of doing that which he had been asked to do and yet making enemies by telling the truth about what he had seen.

Most of the people had no problem with this, after all, the theatre was just a hobby for most and no one was serious about creating an industry. Were they? Anyway, most of the people were still surfing or playing football. But a small group of artists remained scattered across the coast, committed to creating a quality of theatre that the people hadn’t seen for years. They welcomed feedback and they learned from it, improving process and production elements, gradually increasing their audiences, right across the Sunshine Coast, simply by making good theatre. When bad theatre went on, they discussed it openly and commended it on what it was – a whole lot of fun for those who were less than serious about the craft – and they remembered the talent that may have been overlooked or misdirected in one show, in order to offer that talent invitations to work in another.

The moral of the story? As a reviewer, you can’t win. As an artist, there are many ways to win. As an artist, you need to work out what they are and who can help you to FIND THE WIN.


8 Responses to “Return to the Forbidden Planet – A Reviewer’s Story”

  1. 1 Sean McDermott
    November 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    As a member of the cast of Return to the Forbidden Planet, I am disappointed that you have chosen not to review it. As a performer, it’s difficult to get an objective opinion of your performance – people will mosty tell you that you were great regardless of their actual opinions so as not to hurt your feelings. I find an honest and constructive review of a production the only way to gauge the success of the show and of my own performance.
    When you read a review full of superlatives and with no negatives at all, it’s obvious that the reviewer is not being honest but just painting a rosy picture of the production to try and boost ticket sales.
    In my opinion, a reviewer has a difficult job – noone wants to read an absolute panning of an amateur production but, at the same time, an overly positive review is a complete waste of time for everyone.

    • November 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

      Sean. I reviewed the show. If you would so desire I will send you a copy. It is a 250 word overview but should you want a more detailed critique I would be more than happy to whip one up for you.

    • November 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Sean, I’m happy to give individuals some honest, constructive personal feedback but I had decided on this occasion that no good would come from reviewing the show. If everyone involved was happy with the production then that’s a win…isn’t it?

      I hope you can reconsider your view that “an honest and constructive review of a production (is) the only way to gauge the success of the show and of my own performance.” A review is one person’s opinion. There are other ways to measure “success” in a community theatre project. With regard to this particular production, the people involved will reflect on their experience and, with that in mind, they’ll move on and choose their next project. I look forward to seeing that, whatever it may be!

  2. 4 Robyn Ernst
    November 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Ian will always be remembered here on the coast. He was a valued member of our Theatre community and one whose opinion and influence I personally miss.

  3. November 8, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I agree with Sean. Telling this story – one might even say parable – has done nothing to add to the show, certainly this appeared too late and with too small a readership, to make any impact on the show or our performances. That being said, we had a hell of a time as Noosa Arts are an absolutely fantastic group to work with – from committee to cast!

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