So I did it. It was the least relaxing holiday of my life turning me into a sleep deprived, wild-eyed caffeine addicted madwoman who could barely string a sentence together, but I did it. I survived the frenzied whirlwind of my first Fringe as reviewer for Broadway Baby.
At the start of the week I had all sorts of grand ideas like ‘I will keep a diary of my experiences every day making witty observations that perfectly capture all the magical details of this experience’. Did I fuck. It was all I could to do to keep my head above water with the onslaught of reviews, bashing them out feverishly one after the other in one of two inevitable positions;
a. precariously perched on a bar stool sipping on a pint of Blue Mountain and swearing at the terrible internet connection.
b. bleary eyed the next morning forcing myself out of bed at some ungodly hour to meet the 24 hour deadline.
The other grand ideas I had were…oh things like ‘I will complete every review the day I see the show in order to keep efficiently on top of myself’ and ‘I will always write then edit later on in order that I will avoid all spelling mistakes, sloppy grammar, cringe clichés and painful platitudes etc’…
Obviously all of these rules went completely out of the window and by the end I was at least 48 hours behind still tapping away furiously on the train back to London. Luckily nobody seemed to notice as presumably they were all in the same boat.
One of the first rules I broke was one about trying to be nice about everyone, even the shows I didn’t like. Especially about the shows I didn’t like. Here my novice status gleamed like a sore thumb and I learnt very quickly that being nice is just not the job of a critic. Fair, yes. Honest, yes. Able to write reviews that carefully balance description and criticism in a tightly crafted snappy summary that perfectly captures the show and your opinion of it. That’s the dream. But Nice? No no no. And there is one very simple reason for that, one that I knew before but that only really hit home to me a few days in. The review is not written for the performer and it’s certainly not written for the reviewer. It’s written for the audience member who uses your review of the show to decide whether to go to it or not.
After a few days this became my mantra. As long as I kept this in the back of my mind I was happy with what I wrote and generally I think I did stick to this, ensuring I made it clear each time whether I thought Jo Reader should waste his time and money on the piece or…not. This is obviously a lot trickier than you first imagine because there are all sorts of variables which mean your review will be completely off the mark for some peoples’ personal taste, there are always going to be those who absolutely hate what you love and vice versa. Inevitably reading my babies back last week I immediately saw things I know could be improved and a couple I wish I could just delete. But writing at that speed and with that little sleep I know that I did as well as I could.
The intensive fringe experience has given me exactly what I wanted, the chance to improve my review writing just by simply doing it over and over and over again. I really pushed myself to explain why I did or didn’t like something, remembering to think about all the elements of a production and critique it in context. Finally for a brief longed for spell I had the time to focus on it full time and I can’t regret it for a second, despite a post fringe burnout so complete I was basically a zombie at work for the last two weeks. Since I got back I’ve still not stopped writing however as I’m now reviewing for Londonist. Comparing my pre and post Edinburgh reviews I can see the biggest difference it’s made is confidence and I just want to continue working on this fascinating craft.
But obviously there’s the thing. So do about a million other people. One things for sure there is no money in this gig and I’m not going to be giving up my day job anytime soon. But that’s fine. A big part of me thinks if this was my full time job I wouldn’t enjoy it so much as there are always going to be daily frustrations to deal with. For the moment I’m happy to continue indulging my addiction to free press view wine and c-list celebrity spotting, the best one yet being Miriam Margolyes aka Professor Sprout!!!!
It’s not all roses though. Quite apart from the lack of sleep being involved in a festival this large will inevitably make you feel like your buzzing around a flea market. You, tiny insignificant little reviewer flea are there to bleat your ill-informed opinions about perky actor fleas who are all working their sequin clad bottoms off on the Royal Mile to attract as many ticket buying fleas to their shows as they possibly can. If occasionally there is a fat producer flea in the audience then the little actor fleas’ hearts will flutter with barely suppressed joy as obviously they have taken out a massive loan to be here and are staking everything on their original glam-rock musical re-telling of Titus Andronicus. As a reviewer you’re basically responsible for spraying pesticide all over the fleas who don’t quite measure up and it gets a bit depressing after a while. In the case of this absolute turkey I could barely make myself write the review so meaningless did the whole thing seem.
I sometimes think I prefer writing features and previews because then you’re in control, choosing to interview people you already know are good, helping to promote a show you already believe people should go and see. The joy of seeing something that you love however far out ways the galling pain of dragging yourself through something that you hate. During a particularly dark day my saviour came in the form of a Scottish Storyteller so unexpectedly wonderful I fell in love with him the moment he opened his mouth. Other highlights included Jack Rooke’s Good Grief…and a hilarious Ayckbournesque comedy Swing by Around 8 from a surprisingly competent student company (that’s mean…honestly some of them are really really good).
Golly this post is long. So in conclusion life’s but a stage and all that jazz. I recently got soaked in the rain at the Globe watching As You Like It and as the actor delivered those famous lines I had one of my epiphanies…all of us are fleas but only some of us are trying to fly to the moon…or something like that.