What’s the point of it all?  For over two years I’ve been writing for Varsity Theatre, and I’ve seen several verbal scraps about reviewing in my time.  I am fully aware that it’s a debate my tuppence-worth could never resolve, but I’ve got a column and I might as well use it.

Why do reviewers bother?  None of us would do it if we didn’t enjoy it, so there must be some selfish motivations.  The complimentary tickets are a definite perk, and reduce the guilt of buying interval drinks and ice-creams.  A less base motivation is the chance to write and have published a creative response to a creative piece of theatre.  Most reviewers realise that this should be kept within reasonable bounds: if doctorate-level critical analysis is what you’re about, write a PhD; if hilarious wit is your game, join the Footlights (or, if you’re not that funny but like trying, write for The Tab).

Articulating your views in a piece of student journalism which has a near-guaranteed readership is a comparative luxury.  But who is this readership?  There’s the cast and creative team behind the play, but that is not the only people reviews are for.  It is true that reviewers have a responsibility to take a play and the work that has gone into it seriously, but this does not demand that they give a director’s-notes-style critique.  If this was the case, reviews would be private emails not open publications.  Reviews are also (or, perhaps, even more) for (potential) audience members, contributing to debates surrounding a play, or highlighting whether these exist at all.

Luckily both cast and audience presumably demand similar things of a review in terms of analysis.  But what exactly ought to be reviewed?  There’s all the obvious things to comment on: acting, direction, set, technical effects.  But what about the script?  Is there a distinction between the play and the production?  If there is, it is not a neat one.  The script has to be in-bounds for a reviewer, not just when it’s original writing or a play that is rarely performed.  As the essence of a play, the text determines a production’s quality to a great extent.  Admirable salvage operations on poor scripts may be commendable attempts, but will not result in entertaining productions overall. 

Which other students are writing reviews?  For a start, reviews are written by individuals, making them no more, but no less, than one person’s considered opinion.  A diverse range of people have made up this term’s Theatre team.  The author’s of the three theatre features in this week’s theatre pages are a fresher, an actor-turned-reviewer and a scientist (though he is the section’s only one – more welcome).  Each reviewer will have different tastes and preferences, likes and bugbears.  This is why I see little point in accusing rather than accepting star ratings as inherently impressionistic, since the reviews themselves are too.  Honesty is the maxim reviewers ought to write by, and as long as reviewers abide by it the variation between their individual works should be embraced.