Opinion: Is It Worth Reviewing A Bad Show?

Earlier this week I was planning to go to the press night of Bits of Me Are Falling Apart, the new play at the Soho Theatre about the perils of middle age starring Adrian Edmondson. I thought that it sounded fun. I like William Leith who wrote the book. I like Adrian Edmondson. I’m middle aged. What’s not to like?

I couldn't make the press night so rearranged my tickets. But then I read the reviews. One star in The Guardian – “amiably dull…energy lacking”. One star in The Times – “just plain miserable”. Other reviews were similarly unenthusiastic. I politely emailed the press office and cancelled my tickets for later in the week. Life is too short to see a one star play, let alone spend the time writing a review of it.

Then this morning I was thinking that maybe I should see it. A critic’s job is not just to review the good shows. The stinkers have their place too. I have reviewed bad shows in the past. When Jim Davidson made his Edinburgh Fringe debut a few years ago I didn’t enjoy it, but I gave it a chance. In fact even Davidson acknowledged that, tweeting me to say thanks for coming with an open mind unlike other critics who seemed to have written their reviews before picking up their tickets. 

But Davidson playing the Fringe was a big story. As is Mrs Brown’s Boys playing arenas. You have to cover those. Ade Edmondson at Soho Theatre, just around the corner from where he started out at the original Comedy Story three decades ago, wasn’t quite in the same ballpark, news-wise.

It might, of course, have been possible that I would have liked the show more than the other critics. But I respect the opinions of the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner and The Times’ Sam Marlowe. I can’t see myself having a drastically different take on it.

There have been occasions where I have seen something with low expectations having read other reviews and it has not been that bad. The recent Amazon Woody Allen series for example. Maybe I lowered my expectations accordingly in those cases. But the reviews have been so bad in this case I can’t see myself penning plaudits. 

Reviewing bad shows is important. Telling readers not to go to something is as useful as telling readers to go to something, but in this cse the job has been done for me. The website The Velvet Onion tries to offer constructive criticism when a show is disappointing but if they can’t be constructive they sometimes give a show a miss, which is fair enough. They call it the Ronan Keating school of journalism - you say it best when you say nothing at all. But The Velvet Onion is not a dedicated reviews website so has no duty or obligation to review shows*. 

At Beyond The Joke we try to cover everything of comedic significance. But in this case I made the decision to give Edmondson’s solo piece a miss. Judging by what I had read I didn’t think I could find anything new to add. Does Edmondson need to read another damning write-up? God knows it is hard enough being middle aged already without having to read gloomy reports about your latest project. Why add to their grief? 


*Nobody can review everything - if TVO or BTJ don't review something please don't assume automatically that it is worse than Donald Trump winning the US Election.




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