Over the summer the MGCfutures Company has been taking a break from the rehearsal room.
This doesn’t mean that a lot of the group haven’t continued to perform and produce shows with other groups, even at the Camden and Edinburgh fringes. However my role at these festivals has been a little different and has inspired the subject of this particular blog.
I’ve reviewed a lot of young companies at festivals and that poses a lot of challenges for me personally. I’ve seen young people’s shows, which have been better some adult ones, but of course that’s not always the case. When you see a musical about cooking where a school class are questionably costumed as things you’d find in the fridge, then half an hour later you’re watching a hard-hitting First World War drama produced by an established company, there’s a lot for a reviewer to learn about perspective.
Recently, I worked really closely with the Lincoln Young Company on bringing its production of Stacey Gregg’s I’m Spilling My Heart Out Here to London for the National Theatre’s Connections Festival, a programme which commissions playwrights to create new plays for young people and works with companies and schools all over the country. I can’t deny, that however much I grew to love the company after watching the show come together, I was beyond envious to see them performing on the National’s stage. Giving that sort of opportunity to young companies can do nothing but inspire the next generation of theatre makers and goers, so equally can a review ruin that experience?
I think harsh reviews of young companies are unforgivable
Whenever I’ve reviewed a young company I’m very aware that I ‘go easy’ on them. What does that mean? Am I not being honest with them? Recently, I’ve become very aware that there’s a fine line between telling an actor how you believe the performance could have been improved and why it was unimpressive in terms of constructive criticism. I know there can’t be one rule for young companies and another for professional companies, because one can take criticism better than the other, but there’s just not enough room to manage both of these things in 200 to 400 words. And what the reader wants, and what the company wants from a review is very different.
Still, the future of theatre needs encouragement and it’s a part of a reviewer’s duty to give them that, but it would be worse to lie to them. I’ve read a couple of harsh reviews of young companies, and think that’s unforgivable. More and more companies and critics are coming together to nurture the tense relationship between them, and I think that if anyone could benefit from extending this dialogue beyond words on a page, it’s the young companies themselves.