“I shouldn’t engage with reviews,” I wrote at the end of my penultimate post. And yet here I am about to do so. But I won't do it again. Certainly not after this particular post. Which is a word I don’t like and should therefore try not to say. All right. In this, the fourth p*** on my first ever blog (yet another word I don't like - what is it with me and words?) I will finally face up to reviews and words I don’t like. Oh, ‘cute’ is another one. ‘Grumpy old man’ is another three. But let us take them in order.
I’ve just had a few for The Poof Downstairs, although some of them shouldn’t be called reviews at all. They are penned, more often than not, by over-zealous computer geeks with scant knowledge of their subject and then posted on their b***s. They should be called ‘customer responses.’ The first time I did a (I’m going to have to say it) ‘scratch’ (i.e. a work in progress showing) of The Poof Downstairs up popped a bloggy customer response which described the work as ‘a nonsensical mess.’ She also wrote this: ‘The Poof Downstairs promises to be ‘the ultimate feel-good play’, but after an hour of listening to tales of disappeared stroke victims, abusive neighbours and the death of his mother, writer Jon Haynes clearly doesn’t have much to feel good about, and neither does the audience.’ Almost exactly a year later I received an awesomely bad review for the same show (headlined “Mad, skittish ‘monologue’ is a flop”) from the Bristol Evening News. Like Blogger 1, above, she also pointed out the dissimilarity between the show she saw and the one promised her in the blurb, as if I was somehow guilty of contravening the trades description act. I was. Deliberately. It was a joke blurb, describing a show that never happens, The Poof Downstairs being essentially one long introductory speech. There is no 'play' as described in the theatre's brochure. Lost on Blogger 1 and The Bristol Evening News, of course. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. People have always taken me too seriously. My colleague David Woods had the opposite problem when he was growing up: “When I was being serious,” he told me, “people always laughed, so I thought ‘fuck this, I’ll just do comedy.’ ” With me it’s almost as though I should go through life brandishing placards saying things like “It’s ok to laugh at this” or “I know I look serious but looks can be deceptive.” Though they’d probably take that seriously too.
The worst review I’ve ever had is also my best. My performance in our adaptation of Three Men in a Boat inspired this from Ian Shuttleworth, then writing for City Limits: “Jon Darke (the absurd name I was going under at the time), as narrator J, displays what Ken Campbell calls ‘the legendary minus effect.’ When he leaves the stage it seems more full.” Shuttleworth couldn’t have known it, I suppose, but what he described is basically the quality in acting to which I aspire. It’s the kind of acting that doesn’t walk up to you and shake you by the hand, the kind of acting that you hardly notice. So actually the best compliment a reviewer could pay me would be not to mention me at all. Difficult when it’s a one-man show.
I don’t envy reviewers. They are required, it seems, to identify meaning in the shows they see and then describe these meanings to their readers. But what if there is no meaning? Theatre, in my cynical view, a view that’s been formed, you could say, by my uptight response to reviews, means nothing at all. It is meaningless. Rather like life, actually. It is up to us as spectators to impose meaning upon it, just as with life we can choose to find meaning within it.
And I didn't even get onto words I don't like.