I had a great debate today with the fantastic PR at the Soho Theatre about the press night for Bunny. I’d wanted to book it in for Thursday 13th October, but Amy pointed out the numerous clashes scheduled already (the Bush, Trafalgar Studios 2, Royal Court, Lyric Hammersmith, RSC and more all open shows that week) and persuaded me that it’d be better to invite reviewers to attend when they could. If they wanted to, of course.
As more and more shows keep opening (and so often open in the same four week cycles), the press diary maintained by the Society of London Theatre looks full however far in advance you try to plan, so it’s increasingly difficult to get all the reviewers in at the same time. But does this matter?
Well, yes and no. No, in that a good review is a good review. If you’re looking to the long term, no one is going to care whether the review came out in the first week or the last week of your run. Critical thumbs up is still a great way to strengthen your profile (be that as a director, writer, actor or producer). But yes, in that reviews can sell tickets. Perhaps. For small shows on the Fringe with limited runs reviews are a useful tool to publicise your show quickly to its audience. Even shows in the West End can often be hurt or helped by them. A high critical approval rating can translate into ticket sales, especially when a few extra seats makes all the difference. Luckily that was my own experience working on Blue Surge at the Finborough. There, with only 50 seats to sell, positive reviews definitely made a difference.
Of course, Bunny has already got fantastic reviews, both in Edinburgh and on its UK tour. But there are still reviewers who haven’t given their verdict, just like there are lots of people who haven’t seen the show yet.
It looks like we won’t be holding an official press night. But you can bet anything that I’ll be urging reviewers to come along as early as possible if they can.
I was lucky enough to get tickets to the press night of Onassis on Tuesday night. There were cameras and celebrities and everything. No one took my picture.
It was interesting to see a show on the same night as almost all of the critics. It’s fairly obvious that things can change radically between previews and press night, or indeed just between any performance, that’s part of what makes live performance so exciting. Live performance is never quite the same. But it does pose a problem when so much relies on the impact that those reviews will have. Whatever people say about the value of reviews, I imagine that there is little dispute that Michael Billington’s one-star lambast in the Guardian is not a good thing (from the producers’ perspective anyway), whereas Michael Coveney’s four stars in whatsonstage.com is.
For a West End show labelled with the rather ominous “strictly limited run” getting audiences in early is crucial. And the conventional wisdom is that reviews help with that audience, making people book to go see a show who hopefully will then persuade other people to see it and so it will sell out. And by conventional wisdom I’m not just guessing, it’s supported by the Society of London Theatre’s 2008 Ipsos MORI study which found that 57% of the audience were influenced by the show’s “general reputation”, 37% by a personal recommendation and 35% by good reviews in the media.
It would of course be foolish to try and put a value on a review, but that 35% influenced by good reviews are likely to be among the people who pass on personal recommendations and contribute to the show’s “general reputation” because the show doesn’t have time to build up any other reputation (it is, after all, strictly limited).
I wouldn’t dream of reviewing the show myself, but when discussing afterwards what sort of shows I would like to put on Onassis didn’t immediately spring to mind. It’s a difficult question to answer even if I had just seen something with obvious appeal (or queued for hours for it). But it’s also a stupid question: what sort of shows. Well, do you mean that I have to limit myself to producing one of dance, opera, new writing, revivals, or a musical and can never do anything else? Because given the right show I’d like to be part of all of the above.
So how do I choose what to I do: well, it’s what I’d like to see. That’s it. My personal taste. I don’t know what will be popular and trying to rely on my non-existent experience of an audience I know nothing about would probably be a tad foolish. I’d like to put on shows that I think are great and I’d like lots of other people to agree with me. Preferably by buying tickets to come and see the show. And then telling all their friends.