Is an audience review site what theatre-land needs?

TodayTix has launched an audience review website in the UK. Called Show-Score, you can rate and simply review* what you've seen, and the site collates the scores and reviews.

Screen shot of Show-score theatre rankings
Show-Score has launched in London, allowing audience ratings and reviews of plays and musicals

It's something that has been around in New York for a number of years. Here in the UK, other than allowing comments under online reviews, there isn't anything similar that gives audiences a voice. 

Film sites have been letting audiences rate and review for years. Rotten Tomatoes aggregates critics' and audience ratings, running the two scores side by side. It's an interesting comparison because the two don't always agree.

The spectrum of voices writing about theatre has broadened in the last 10-15 years, with reviews websites and bloggers adding to the critics' reviews. Social media has been the platform for audience opinion, but it is more scattergun.

Show-Score is incentivising audience reviewers with competitions and giveaways. The more reviews you submit, the better your chance.

Prickly reaction

Some critics have been very prickly towards having bloggers step on 'their' turf; what they make of audiences having their say will be interesting to see.

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Review: Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre - Making sense of spinning wheels

Who You Are And What You Do starts with spinning a wheel to determine the order of the story - it's a quirky idea and has been used in different guises before.

Who You Are And What You Do  Bread and Roses Theatre Mar 2022
Who You Are And What You Do, Bread and Roses Theatre. Photo: Rachel Guest

The wheel has six pieces of paper with words such as "dignity" and "more than this", and once each is chosen (the audience does the spinning), it is pegged to a washing line across the performance space. It has the effect of bunting.

There is glitter on the floor and boxes with various random items, and a Christmas Tree in the corner. The audience is seated around the edge of the space, and it feels like you are attending a children's party. The play kicks off with two clowns larking about doing clown stuff. 

Are they part of the narrative thread or just a scene-setter? There is a clown later entertaining a lonely boy on his birthday (played by a man wearing a dinosaur costume). That story thread contains a workaholic father who is also having an affair.

There is another thread with a woman who has lost the ability to laugh and turns to an ex-child star for lessons. In another, a woman is writing her dating profile, and in another, a couple live in a perpetual state of preparing for Christmas - the husband has dementia.

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Review: The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre - Ruth Wilson is transfixing

You know those times you are watching a play utterly transfixed by what is happening on stage? Yep, well, that's how I felt watching  Ruth Wilson in The Human Voice.

The Human Voice Harold Pinter Theatre poster
The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre Mar 2022

The signs were good. She's a fabulous actress, and she's partnered with director Ivo Van Hove before - in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre, which earned five stars from me.

An adaptation by Van Hove of Jean Cocteau's challenging play, The Human Voice is not just a monologue; it's one side of a telephone conversation. In the wrong hands, it could be awful. 

The conversation is between a woman (Wilson) and, as we learn, her lover. They have been together for five years, but he is leaving her and marrying another woman the following day, so this will be their last conversation.

There is nothing obvious or affected in Ruth Wilson's performance. We watch her through a large window as if observing her apartment from a neighbouring building. She occasionally walks out of view while talking, and there is something voyeuristic about the whole thing, a feeling which heightened by how oblivious she is to being viewed - or overheard. 

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Review: Under the Radar, Old Red Lion - mismatched and odd

In Jonathan Crewe's play Under the Radar, journalist Lee Stilling  (Eleanor Hill) is profiling inventor Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe), who has built his own submarine. She is accompanying him on his two-day maiden voyage, and it will be her big scoop.

Under the Radar programme

The first act starts ostensibly as an interview. However, the notebook and pen are quickly forgotten as the two drink their way through a bottle of some home-distilled liquor of Martin's. It turns out both Lee and Martin have daddy issues, and both want to prove themselves.

But the signs are fairly obvious that this isn't going to be about two strangers alone together comparing lives and working out their problems. There are Chekhov's guns all over the place, such as Martin's expressed desire for power and how he likes being on his submarine because he can make the rules. He stops drinking while continuing to top up Lee's glass and questions her about her looks and how it's impacted her career. 

As the conversation about male-female relationships develops, more of Martin's gender bias is exposed, eventually turning into a darker, violent misogyny.

This leads to an utterly bizarre supernatural third act which, visually at least, had me thinking about Beckett's Happy Day. Is this the 'darkly comic' bit as described in the play notes?

When you've had acts of male violence towards a woman described in graphic detail in a previous scene, it's hard to find anything funny.

The acceleration of events between acts 2 and 3 is so rapid that Lee's response is glossed over. Is that what necessitated the odd final act: to give her a voice?

Reflecting on the submarine setting, it turns out to be merely a device to get the two alone and isolated with no phone signal. Other than brief references at the start about the right terms to use (a submarine is a boat, not a ship), the submarine seems to be on autopilot for the entire trip.

It is similar to Lee's role as a journalist; aside from a notebook, she seems ill-equipped to do an interview - no laptop or dictaphone to record the conversation. The fact that she turned up for an overnight work trip with just a handbag also felt strange.

Such detail perhaps wouldn't matter if the play was less disjointed and knew what it wanted to be. Is it a subtle exploration of unconscious bias or exposure of toxic masculinity and male violence? Is it a dark comedy, a thriller or a horror?

There is a lot to say about gender bias and misogyny, but in Under The Radar, it gets submerged.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️.

Under The Radar, Old Red Lion Theatre

Written and directed by Jonathan Crewe

Running time: 90 minutes with an interval

Booking until 2 April visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website for more details

Recently reviewed:

The Collaboration, Young Vic - The play that had me on my feet

Henry V, Donmar Warehouse - Kit Harrington dazzles

 


Review: The Collaboration, Young Vic - Jeremy Pope and Paul Bettany had me on my feet

Anthony McCarten's new play The Collaboration at the Young Vic kicks off as you arrive in the auditorium with an 80s DJ set. It's toe-tapping, hip and creates a party, edgy, youthful yet nostalgic atmosphere.

The Collaboration Young Vic 2022 poster
Official poster for The Collaboration at the Young Vic, Feb 2022

Contrast this with the first scene in which we find Andy Warhol (Paul Bettany) being persuaded by his manager Bruno (Alec Newman) to work on a collaboration with young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeremy Pope).

Bettany's Warhol is buttoned up, stiff, contained, tidy and hates mess. His appeal in the art world isn't what it once was.

In the next scene, we meet Basquiat, whose star is firmly in the ascendant. He is having a similar conversation with Bruno, whom he also manages, and we see someone who is more fluid and loose in their body language, inquisitive and prowling. Someone who doesn't care about mess.

But this isn't just about physical differences; it's a play about different minds, different approaches to art and different lives.

The first half is a verbal sparring match, the two artists having reluctantly agreed to work together. They clash on the purpose of art, what it's for and whether it can heal.

Contrasting styles

Warhol's art is planned, slow, particular and calculated its value, ironically, dismissed as nothing. Basquiat's art is spontaneous, rooted in emotion. It is about expression and saying something.

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Review: Kit Harington in Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Henry V opens with a burst of energy at a nightclub with a worse for wear party prince. It's a scene lifted from Henry IV part 2 and is an important reminder of Henry V's past and subsequent transformation into a serious king.

It is a great scene-setter for this modern-dress production and a performance of Henry that leaves the lines blurred between heroic and ruthless leader.

Henry V Donmar Warehouse poster

One of the first things we see the new king decide is whether to go to war with France. His claim to the French throne is explained by a Bishop, with the help of a family tree projected on the stage's back wall.

There is a satirical note in the way the hereditary links are drawn. However, it is Kit Harington's controlled switch in tone when addressing the French ambassador after being insulted, which is the first glimpse of Henry's character as king.

He is angry but sparing, there is no chewing the scenery, and yet it magnifies his power and presence even when he isn't on stage.

His divine status is emphasised subtly in choral and operatic pieces sung by members of the cast. The music serves as a reminder of the role the church plays in driving Henry to war with France as well as lending a tragic tone to the story.

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Review: The Forest, Hampstead Theatre - marriage, masks and our darker side

Florian Zeller's new play The Forest is like looking at broken mirror pieces, it is you, yet the angle is a little bit different in each piece. It follows Pierre, a successful surgeon who's married and the father of a grown-up daughter, as he juggles his professional and family life with having a mistress.

The Forest Production Image 1 featuring TOBY STEPHENS  GINA MCKEE © The Other Richard
The Forest, Hampstead Theatre, 2022: TOBY STEPHENS & GINA MCKEE. Photo © The Other Richard

The first inkling you get that he is duplicitous is his reaction to the news that his daughter has caught her partner cheating. He is sympathetic but doesn't think it's that big of a deal.

It's a stark contrast to what unfolds when his own affair threatens to be exposed. Or at least what he fantasises.

I confess that there is a moment in the play when the train jumps tracks, and it nearly left me behind. If you've seen The Father, you know that Zeller can play with timelines, and he does something similar here with the same scenes played out with subtle differences.

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Review: The Glow, Royal Court - mysterious, curious and perplexing

Alistair McDowall's The Glow at the Royal Court is a play I've had to ponder - a lot - and I still don't have any firm conclusions.

The Glow  Royal Court Theatre  Ria Zmitrowicz  Rakie Ayola Photo Manuel Harlan
The Glow, Royal Court Theatre: Ria Zmitrowicz and Rakie Ayola. Photo Manuel Harlan

It is why my immediate thoughts on leaving the theatre were the staging and, in particular, the lighting design - which was stunning. It was something tangible to mentally grasp, but I'll come back to that.

The first half of the play is set in Victorian England. The mood is gothic: dark corners, shadows, ghostly figures and candles.

Mrs Lyall (Rakie Ayola), a spiritualist, bribes a porter at an asylum to let her have a woman (Ria Zmitrowicz) with no memory to use as a conduit for spirits. She sets the woman up in her son Mason's room (Fisayo Akinade), much to his disgust.

She is kind to her, albeit with selfish intent. She wants to be the first to reanimate a human and the woman's lack of memories or identity make her the perfect vessel.

But the woman is far more than Mrs Lyall could ever conceive. Her returning memories are strange and ancient, like the soldier (Tadhg Murphy) who chases her in them.

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Review: Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse - laughs, oddness and is the staging right for the space?

The Donmar Warehouse's stage has been converted into a French ski resort for Force Majeure. There is a mountain backdrop, in the middle of which are lift doors and a 'snowy' slope that tilts downwards towards the centre of the stalls.

Force Majeure poster
Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse 2021/22

It's ski-able as some of the cast demonstrate, swooshing from one back corner, down the slope and through the audience. It's an impressive bit of staging, but it comes at a cost.

Adapted by Tim Price from Ruben Ostlund's film, Force Majeure follows a Swedish family on holiday. The father, Tomas (Rory Kinnear), is a workaholic, and his put-upon wife Ebba (Lynsey Marshal) is determined to keep him off his phone and focused on family time.

Meanwhile, their two children are glued to screens ignoring their parents and are indignant when they do get asked to do something. It is a familiar dynamic, but an incident on the slopes threatens family and relationship bonds.

It's an incident that forces them to face some hard and ugly truths. 

Nordic humour

I haven't seen the film, but there are shades of Scandi humour in the play. There are also laughs that come from the easily recognised behaviour - the plays keen observation is one of its strengths.

However, sometimes jokes are overused and become laboured. It occasionally slips into farce, and the humour doesn't always gel with the more serious, contemplative moments. At times the play feels at odds with itself.

And then there is the staging and the skiing. On the one hand, it is quite cool to see people skiing in a theatre and does bring the ski resort to life. But on the other, if you're sitting in the wrong seats, you will get a limited view of what is going on.

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Review: Peggy For You, Hampstead Theatre - an entertaining snapshot of a theatre star

Peggy Ramsay (Tamsin Greig) is a play agent, but she is more famous than the playwrights and the work that she represents. Written by Alan Plater, a client of the real Peggy, the play is set in her office in the late 1960s and covers a day in her life.

Peggy For You Production Image 4 featuring TAMSIN GREIG © Helen Maybanks
Peggy For You, Hampstead Theatre 2021 starring Tamsin Greig. Photo © Helen Maybanks

It opens with Peggy reposed on a chaise lounge, reading play scripts. As she reads them, she makes a series of phone calls through which we learn it is early morning, and she's been up all night bailing out one of her clients who has had a brush with the law.

We also learn that Peggy has little regard for the hour and the disturbance that her early calls cause.

As the day progresses, there's the arrival of a promising young playwright Simon (Josh Finan), who, when told what he has written isn't a play, asks: 'What is a play?' It becomes a running theme as Peggy asks various clients for their answers.

Then there is her golden boy playwright, Philip (Jos Vantyler), who arrives announcing that he is getting married, much to Peggy's chagrin - she believes it will kill his creativity. And a disgruntled ex-golden boy Henry (Trevor Fox) visits to tell Peggy he is tired of her interference.

To add to the office bustle, the phone regularly rings. Her secretary Tessa (Danusia Samal), handles calls and other demands, like buying an atlas so Peggy can see where two Yorkshire based playwrights live.

Peggy For You is a character piece where the activity is designed to show who Peggy was and how she was rather than taking her on a journey.

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