The Rehabilitation of Three Stars

Things are getting serious in the course for critics. Current mentors, Andrew Haydon and Catherine Love, decided that this week we’d have the pleasure of being regaled and inspired by none other than Lyn Gardner.

As critics go, she’s something of a legend. What she doesn’t know about theatre, is probably not worth knowing. She’s been writing for the Guardian since 2008, until they announced it was going to cancel her contract to write 150 blogs for them. The nice people at the Guardian did let her have a few crumbs of continuing to write features and reviews tho. However, the damage was done. And “Our Lyn” was now in the public eye. There was instantly a public outcry and a campaign was launched to have her reinstated. I’ve not seen t-shirts on sale as of yet, emblazoned with ‘Save Our Lyn’ no doubt, but surely this is only a matter of time.

Perhaps the public outcry is a slight over exaggeration. Some people in the arts were clearly miffed. Although, the poll carried out by The Stage asking whether Lyn had in some way helped your career did make me chuckle. 60% said yes. (Okay so its 121 people, but still, 121 people is better than none!).

Meeting people that you put on pedestals is never really a good thing. More often than not they prove to be a complete and utter letdown. Thankfully in Lyn’s case, I knew immediately she was going to be a hit when she likened critics to a group of chorus girls. (Thankfully Googling it allowed me to find an actual Lyn Gardner review which featured the quote in question)

“My memory may be playing tricks on me – so do please correct me if I’m wrong – but I think it was Alan Bennett who once suggested that theatre critics are like a group of giddy chorus girls out for a night on the town and just waiting to be fucked.”

She also passionately spoke about taking the good and the bad, and that it was worth watching the mediocrity to find those times when theatre makes an indelible impression, akin to falling in love. As Lyn said, who wouldn’t mind falling in love again and again. Yes, it’s safe to say that Lyn had us eating out of the palm of her hand by the end.

I digress. The reason for this post is to pick up on her “one woman crusade” on the rehabilitation of awarding three stars. For in her impassioned spirited plea of how three stars is undervalued, she showed just how much she gets theatre, from those that watch on a regular basis to those that have forged a career in it.

Awarding ‘Star Ratings’ is a thorny issue it would seem. We all agreed that adorning reviews with star ratings is allowing the reader an easy way out. A quick glance of the stars awarded is enough for some people not to bother with the article itself. As would be reviewers surely this defeats the point.

Yet, those that commission reviews love them so dearly. A necessary evil then. Catherine and Andrew (I should really start referring to them by their surnames, Haydon & Love, as all great double acts tend to go by) have furnished us with rules, some of them that pertain to the use of star ratings. We should refrain from awarding 5 stars, because nothing is really that good, or 1 star, because nothing is really that bad. Of course there are always exceptional cases.

Lyn herself spoke of how critics tend to become a sort of cheerleaders of productions. Bringing us nicely back to the awarding of three stars and tempering your emotional juices. If I understood Lyn correctly, that use of three stars allows the reviewer to be kinder, especially if reading between the lines – within the review itself – may appear to be somewhat unkind. Likewise, those responsible for creating theatre and that take stock by the damning verdict of ratings should not be deflated by the mere three stars. As Lyn pointed out in her laser precision logical analysis: “Three stars is more than halfway to five stars if you think about it.”

I guess it comes down to one of life’s immutable measures, your glass of star ratings is either gonna be half full or half empty.