Just yesterday I was speculating aloud here whether word-of-mouth via Twitter and Facebook might matter more than the morning reviews for Viva Forever! did.
What I couldn’t have known then, but turned out to be surprisingly prophetic from my point of view at least, is that later in the day I found part of the answer: my own twitter comments were quoted in two news stories about the almost entirely negative critical reactions to the show, in both the Associated Press story syndicated across the websites and in the papers of many US papers, and in the Guardian’s online review of the reviews.
In fact Twitter helped solve a technical problem for Time Out’s theatre department, who used it to get their own word out on the show:
Due to technical glitches our Viva Forever review has failed to go live. However, as a taster we can tell you that Viva Forever is awful.
I’m not officially reviewing the show until my column runs in this weekend’s Sunday Express, but my post-performance tweets provided a taster, as I said yesterday they would. A couple of readers of that column posted comments wondering why it wasn’t a review they were expecting to read, which was to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose and function of it; I specifically don’t use this blog to write formal reviews, as those are another part of my writing career.
But as a critic, I realise that Twitter is now an integral part of the narrative and perception of what I put out there, and a particularly powerful one – in a soundbite culture, it gets out there loud, snappy and fast. (I was tweeting less than an hour after I got home from the show; I could, of course, have been doing so immediately on my mobile phone the moment I left the theatre, but I try to wait till I’m on my laptop at least, where it is easier to pause and compose my tweets rather than the rush I’d be under on a mobile phone).
The Guardian highlighted this tweet of mine:
Viva Forever is a phoney, manufactured musical about a phoney, manufactured band, marooned by a structurally inept, unfunny script.
And then it added drily, “Apart from that, he loved it.”
The Guardian’s own review was not filed by the paper’s chief theatre critic Michael Billington, even though the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary reported on Wednesday that he’d seen it on Monday, but noted “instead the task was left to Guardian rock critic, Alexis Petridis.” But it added,
Perish the thought that the saintly, cerebral Billers found the Spice Girls effort unworthy of his pen. Billington once famously turned up to review Jerry Hall’s nude performance in The Graduate with a bulging pocket — which proved to contain a pair of binoculars
As it happens, Viva Forever! probably lucked out by the critical change, with Petridis setting himself apart from the rest of the one and two star critical pack elsewhere by filing a surprisingly generous (in the circumstances) three star review. In fact, Petridis was himself taken by surprise, tweeting in response to the reviews I’d posted:
OMG, I appear to have been much kinder than everyone else. This is NOT the natural order of things at all hahahaha.
The headline to Petridis’s review in the print edition of the paper – bannered across the entire width of the page and on two lines – may yet prove to be a hostage to fortune for him: ”The Spice Girls musical is a work of genius… well, compared to We Will Rock You” it shouted. And The Guardian review of the reviews noted, “Expect to see that one on the posters.” Though of course, only part of that quote.
As it is, a case of selective quotation is already underway: on a Facebook ad, they are trumpeting an Independent review that calls it “deliriously silly and joyous.” In fact, Paul Taylor’s review actually states,
But the evening only achieves the kind of deliriously silly and joyous lift-off that you really, really want from this kind of show – and more than once – at the encore when the company dances up a storm to a Spice Up Your Life under flashing lights and in a tightly-drilled orgy of camp.
The Facebook ad also quotes the Daily Express breathlessly dubbing it “sexy and exhilarating”. Again, a closer inspection of Simon Edge’s review sets those words in context:
Midway through the second half of producer Judy Craymer’s attempt to do for the Spice Girls what she did for Abba with Mamma Mia!, an acrobatic chorus performs a highly sensual version of Spice Up Your Life. It’s sweaty, sexy and exhilarating, but it also serves to highlight the spice-free nature of pretty much everything else in this underpowered and misconceived show.
Last week I pointed out here that “entrance applause for stars – and the Pavlovian automatic standing ovation afforded at the curtain call – are virtually required nowadays on Broadway. An audience doesn’t feel like it is playing its part if they don’t.”
But it seems that actors don’t feel like they’ve been amply rewarded, either, if they don’t receive an automatic standing ovation. According to a story in the Evening Standard on Wednesday, Miriam Margolyes recently took to scolding a member of the audience of her show Dickens’s Women during its run in Vancouver, who was sitting in the front row but failed to join the rest of the standing ovation.
As the Standard reported,
Margolyes motioned for the audience to sit down then turned on the woman, demanding to know why she hadn’t taken part in the ovation. The woman said she once stood at the Barbican for Derek Jacobi. According to Talkin’ Broadway’s theatre spy, Margolyes replied, “I’m sure Derek Jacobi deserved your standing ovation. So should Dickens. You’re very rude.” In response, “most of the audience again applauded” — perhaps as much out of fear as admiration.
So here was an actress insisting on a standing ovation, if not for herself, then for Dickens. Margolyses, who is currently on Sky Arts as a judge of Nation’s Best Am Dram, has obviously let the amdram theatrics go to her head. Approached by the Standard for comment, she admitted, “It’s true. I had no business to call her on it — but that’s what I’m like.”
Quotes of the week: In an interview on Playbill.com with playwright Arthur Bicknell, who wrote the notorious Broadway flop Moose Murders that closed on its opening night in 1983, it was stated that his post-Broadway career included being a reservations clerk for Air France, but now he’s formed a theatre company in Ithaca, and he says:
I decided to follow my dream. I’m a very old man. It’s the city I grew up in, the most beautiful place on earth, and I’m doing, finally, the thing that I love, which is theatre.
And here’s the opening paragraph of the New York Times review by Frank Rich that helped seal the fate of Moose Murders:
From now on, there will always be two groups of theatergoers in this world: those who have seen Moose Murders, and those who have not. Those of us who have witnessed the play that opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theater last night will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions, in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic. Tears and booze will flow in equal measure, and there will be a prize awarded to the bearer of the most outstanding antlers. As for those theatergoers who miss Moose Murders – well, they just don’t rate. A visit to Moose Murders is what will separate the connoisseurs of Broadway disaster from mere dilettantes for many moons to come.