Why I don’t read reviews of my plays

Writing plays is brilliant for many reasons; particularly when it’s performed and you can see the live reactions of an audience. Watching a room full of people experience something you’ve created is thrilling and I never tire of it.

It’s a different experience every time. I’ve seen a raucous audience laughing in all the right (and wrong) places, followed by a hushed, focused audience the next day. Actors tend to prefer the gratification of laughter and noise over intense silence. But personally, I get a real tingle of satisfaction watching a quiet audience taking in every word.

And then come the reviews. A rather less thrilling experience for a writer.

I believe that if people to pay money to see something you’ve written, you should be prepared to accept criticism. Creating a play is a process which, for me, doesn’t end once it’s on the stage. I’ve always considered the audience to be part of the process and I respect the individual’s right to experience the play in their own way. If they didn’t get what you wanted them to from it, it’s not a failure on either side. We all have our own cultural taste buds.

I genuinely enjoy talking to audience members afterwards; finding out what the experience was like for them, what they thought of the characters and themes. It’s often very insightful, especially the more negative feedback. People are surprisingly keen to be honest with you. I’ve had very respectful conversations with audience members who didn’t like the show but loved discussing it with me afterwards.

However, I no longer read any written reviews of my plays.

Most writers have their own approach to handling reviews. After my second play was produced I made a decision not to read reviews in future, regardless of how positive they were.

My reason for this is simple; it’s never as good as the good reviews, and it’s never as bad as the bad reviews. There’s something about written feedback that clouds your objectivity. It’s a bit like getting your annual work appraisal in a magazine, without the opportunity to discuss and understand the feedback. It’s an empty, one-sided exchange.

A review will tell other audience members what they should think about the play before they’ve even seen it. I don’t feel that’s a helpful contribution to the theatre-going experience. In the past, I’ve become fixated by one particular element of a review and couldn’t let it go, yet I haven’t with verbal feedback. It’s also not helpful to bask in positive reviews, as it dulls the drive to keep improving the show while it’s still in production.

Ultimately, you have to take in all perspectives and then make an overall assessment of what you’ve created. But for me, it’s more productive (and yes, kinder on the ego) when it happens face-to-face.

After all, theatre is a live medium. So I prefer my reviews to be live as well.

Feel free to disagree with me, though.