Is reviewing of any value anymore?

Notes from an open space session at Devoted and Disgruntled 2024 at Slung Low, Leeds, UK, 16th March 2024.

Theatre producer Chris O’Grady emphasized the enduring value of reviews, especially when conducted by respected but lesser-known reviewers, as they can aid in both promoting a show and securing funding.

Traditional paid reviewers are dwindling in print media, giving rise to voluntary roles predominantly on digital platforms like websites and blogs.

Paul Levy highlighted FringeReview’s popularity in Edinburgh due to its refusal to use star ratings, distinguishing its reviews from others flooding the Edinburgh Fringe scene with premature five-star ratings.

Referencing the gaming industry, Ridley stressed the importance of fairness in reviews, cautioning against nitpicking and excessive criticism, particularly if the reviewer dislikes the genre. Analogies were drawn between theatre and restaurant reviewing, underscoring the challenge of objectivity but emphasizing the importance of practitioner experience and the ability to assess beyond personal preferences.

Bias can take different forms:

Personal Preference Bias: Reviewers may unintentionally favor or disfavor certain genres, styles, or themes based on their personal tastes and preferences, leading to biased evaluations of productions.

Conflict of Interest Bias: Reviewers with personal or professional connections to the individuals or organizations involved in a production may struggle to provide impartial assessments, potentially skewing their reviews.

Cultural Bias: Reviewers may bring their own cultural backgrounds and perspectives to their evaluations, leading to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the cultural context of a production.

Confirmation Bias: Reviewers may unconsciously seek out or interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceived notions or opinions about a production, rather than objectively evaluating its merits.

Stereotyping Bias: Reviewers may rely on stereotypes or generalizations about certain demographics, such as race, gender, or age, when assessing performances or themes, leading to biased interpretations and critiques.

So, reivewing if you don’t haveany control over the quality of who is reviewinf for what publication can be a risk.

Reviewers have a responsbility to look past their own personal preferences and biases and do not always do so.

When reviews are constructive they can help work improve. Constructive critique is a skill that not all reviewers seem to have.

The subjectivity of reviews was debated, with emphasis on the need to transcend biases and seek evidence-based perspectives.

The decline in paid reviewing poses challenges, including delayed reviews from newspapers during major festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe, potentially impacting shows.

However, the influence of reviews is shifting towards word of mouth and trusted sources, facilitated by social media.

The evolving landscape, driven by technological advancements, raises concerns about the authenticity of reviews, leading to a reliance on instincts and multiple sources for decision-making. With theatre becoming increasingly costly, reviews play a crucial role in helping audiences make economically informed choices.

Traditional reviewing now sits in a wider “ecosystem” that inclues volunteer, usually online reviewing.

For example, Fringe Biscuit is prominent at the Edinburgh Fringe which is in the space of “micro-reviews”, more akin to micromessaging. There can be an immediacy to those reviewers whereas a print review may not come out for days.

We concluded with some reflections on the notion of trust. We need to be able to trust reviews.

Some theatre makers have specific reviewers they invite and trust. Joyce McMillan is an example at the Edinburgh Fringe who writes for the Scotsman. But others have trusted online sources, prefer the immediacy on online and have trusted friends.

Reviewing still seems to be of value but is talking different forms and professional journalism is now a declining part of it. And, with declining budgets for traditional print media, even that reviewing can be of dubious quality.