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Michael Billington: Star ratings on theatre reviews ‘extremely unhelpful’

Michael Billington, the theatre critic. Photo: Daniel Farmer Michael Billington. Photo: Daniel Farmer
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Critic Michael Billington has hit out at star ratings in the theatre industry, claiming they are “extremely unhelpful”.

Billington was speaking at an event called Everyone’s a Critic, organised by Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, at which he said that the Critics’ Circle had initially voted against star ratings.

“The defence is that readers want it. It’s a symbol of the way the entertainment and the arts are now part of this consumer package and things have to be rated in a very simple, clear way,” he said.

Billington went on to claim that star ratings were useful for restaurants or hotels, but said: “For works of art it is extremely unhelpful as we all know works of arts are enigmatic, complicated things.”

He went on to argue that stars did not leave much room for “ambiguity” with certain productions, where a “wonderful play has been given a poor production” or vice versa.

Billington also said that some critics were under pressure to avoid awarding three stars to a show, because they “turn readers off”.

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The Guardian critic also said that, with certain musicals and shows that feature celebrities, critics were “superfluous to requirements”.

“Where we can make a difference, sometimes, is finding an audience for plays that might not otherwise get a big house,” he said, adding: “The West End is constructed in such a way that defies critics. If you cast Kit Harington in a play it does not matter what I or anyone else thinks of it. The West End now depends upon casting that makes criticism a marginal relevance.”

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