If you don’t have anything nice to say about a show, don’t say anything at all

“If you don’t have anything nice to say about a show, don’t say anything at all” is a phrase which seems to keep popping up online and it makes me wonder when things changed?

Eight years ago, when I started westendwilma.com, it was understood that a review of a show by a ‘critic’ (literally someone who’s job it is to criticise a show) would be an account of what was good and what was bad about a show.

One of my favourite stories is of a small cabaret show I reviewed many years ago which was fair but critical, outlining the parts that did and didn’t work. A year later I received an email from the performer to say they had taken my comments on board, reworked the show and received their first ever five star review.

That is the point of it all (at least for me) – to give honest feedback (as someone who sees a lot of theatre) both the good and the bad, that can then be considered by producers/writers/performers when taking the show further in the future.

Not all publications work this way. Many years ago I wrote reviews for a huge website that made its money from selling tickets. When I questioned why they always removed any negativity from my reviews they said “we like to work on the basis that if you don’t have anything nice to say about a show, don’t say anything at all”. I understand people need to sell tickets to shows and a positive review might entice more people to go to see a show but that wasn’t for me so I stopped reviewing for them.

But these days people don’t seem to want to read honest reviews that tell the truth about what is good and what is bad. People want sugar coated pats on the back for the hard work that goes in to making a show, ignoring when things are awful and don’t work on stage.

I pride myself on honesty (and everyone has different opinions) because if someone is going to spend hundreds of pounds on a ticket to see a show, I think they deserve to know the truth about what I really thought. And this way, when I say a show is fantastic, people know I am telling the truth because if it was bad, I would say.

Have we come to a point in 2020 where people no longer want constructive feedback on theatre?