How not to rate (or review) a play


Tips: The two most important things about a play – seriously really the most most important – are the quality of the play itself – the script – and the acting. Direction is also important. Lighting, sets, costumes are nice, but best passed over in a review unless they’re remarkable – good or bad. You could forgive the reviewer for not including the quality of the written play if it was well known or in some other way distanced from the production. In this case, the company putting on the play commissioned one of the two pieces that was played (Dead Centre was commissioned as a companion piece to Sea Wall). I would have given it three and a half stars, not four or four and a half stars as the reviews their publicity quoted. But I might be wrong about that. I’m more confident of my other assertions.

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8 years ago

The thing is, are you criticising the top half or the bottom half ? I sorta guess its the top half, but who knows ?

Anyway, what I see on the top half is basically a review of a performance of a play based on a fairly ordinary factor analysis approach. Of course, being an economist, Nicholas, you understand factor analysis: “Factor analysis is applied as a data reduction or structure detection method to get a small set of variables (preferably uncorrelated) from a large set of variables.” In short, how to make some visible factors try to account for all those invisible factors. A lot like IQ tests if you think about it.

The bottom half, on the other hand, seems to be about reviewing a play: is this a good play ? Is the script of high quality ? etc. But really, that – especially in these days of rampant deconstructionism – is a highly subjective thing not susceptible to logical analysis.

After all, one can, for instance, judge the visible factor of lighting: were the lights on when they needed to be, did they illuminate the stage in a clear and mood enhancing way etc. But the script ? How to judge that, especially if you don’t actually hold a printed (or electronic) copy of it in your hand. It just comes down to very personal and subjective reactions then, doesn’t it.

Or are you, and the anonymous reviewer, asserting that there is some kind of formal, rational approach to critiquing a “script” that would lead to a review text that everybody would deconstruct in precisely the same way ?

john Walker
8 years ago

Dorthy Parker once famously wrote a review of a play titled ” I am a camera”
Her critique was “No Leica .” :-)

John Walker
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

There is also the one about her being at a dinner party and somebody came in and announced that President Coolidge had died, Coolidge was famous for his inactivity. Dorothy replied: how can they tell?