Opinion: Reviewers. A Polite Request For Some Discretion Please by Angela Barnes.

OK, so I need to start out by declaring that in a past life, before being a performer, I have been a reviewer. I was young, I needed the money (well, the free tickets to bands I was too skint to go to). 

But this is not a piece about the merits of reviewing, the discussion of the symbiotic relationship of artist/critic is for another time.

One of the beauties of the Edinburgh Fringe (where I am not performing this year) is that you don’t have to be a professional performer to do a show. Also, you don’t have to be a professional reviewer to review a show. 

I did my first Fringe as a student theatre twat in 1995 (shut up you’re old), when reviews were in print. Actual publications you could hold to your cheek or rip to tiny shreds, depending on your feelings about the words within. 

But times have changed (alright Grandma). Now literally everyone is a critic. We live in the era of Twitter, Facebook, Trip Advisor and, more pertinently here, the Blogosphere.  

While I embrace the freedom of anybody to pop their opinions on the internet, I feel strongly that there is an etiquette to be observed when reviewing for a website/publication that has been given media accreditation by the Fringe. The artist that you are reviewing deserves a certain level of respect, regardless of your assessment of their offering. 

You see, some of us feel about reviewers the way we might about spiders. We know you are out there, we know you do good things for the ecosystem, but we just don’t want to see you, or acknowledge your presence in our shows. No offence, we’re just squeamish.  

My Code of Conduct for reviewers is simple. Discretion, discretion, discretion. If you can’t review a show without making sure the whole room knows how important you are, then you need to take a long hard look at why you are there, and stop.

I had a recent experience where a reviewer I had never met or spoken to tweeted me an hour before my show to say he was coming to the show to review it, that he had had a bad day, and that I had “better be good”. To say I was thrown was an understatement. Not cool mate, not cool. He then proceeded to sit at the front elaborately making notes.

We know you need to make notes, but an obvious reviewer in doesn’t only add tension to the performance, but also to the audience. If the audience are aware you are reviewing, it makes them tense too. And when people are tense, it is much, much harder to make them laugh. So, by being so “visible”, you are inadvertently affecting the show that you have come to review. And that show ceases to be a representation of what the show is on any other day. That just doesn’t seem fair

Which brings me to the latest transgression brought to my attention that lead me to write this. There is a website called edfringereview.com and their team wear tops that say “Edfringe Review” on them. 

Sorry what? What could possibly be the reason for it?  Why do you possibly need to let the other audience members know you might be a critic? For prestige? To feel important? All this does is ramp up the tension in the room even more. Tension is the enemy of comedy. I don’t care how great a performer you are, the word 'Review' in your eyeline is an unwarranted distraction, and it will affect your performance.

Oh, and while I’m here, reviewers, please stop writing the punchlines to the best jokes in your reviews, you’re better than that.

Comedian Angela Barnes is not in Edinburgh this year but you can currently hear her on R4 on Wednesday nights at 11pm in You Can't Take It With You.



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