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Andrzej Lukowski: As a critic, getting a taste of your own medicine is no fun

One-star review; Viva Forever at the Piccadilly Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I got a bad review. A stinking, terrible lousy review. A hatchet job, if you will. And I learned something incredible that I’m going to share with you now: getting a bad review isn’t very nice.

Sadly, I am yet to realise my dream of performing a ‘challenging’ monologue at C Venues. But for the second year on the trot I found my fringe accommodation via Airbnb, the subletting website that encourages ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’ to rate each other when the visit is concluded.

Long story short, I didn’t have any problem with my host until after my stay, when I came to give feedback and actually looked at the listing for the room I’d booked for the first time since making the reservation. I realised I’d been put up in a different, smaller room. I complained – politely – and yadda yadda yadda I woke up one morning to discover my host had blessed me with a 500-word character assassination that concluded with the assessment that I had “a twisted personality” and that nobody should have me to stay.

My first response was genuine concern that I’d upset her. That was followed by a sort of blasé “that’s Airbnb for you eh?” jocularity, followed by a sort of “oh fuck, I’m not sure I can use Airbnb ever again because one of my three reviews accuses me of being a monster”, followed by a sudden, hot burst of upset at how hideously misrepresented I felt I was. I felt she’d deeply misunderstood both me and the rationale behind my complaint – my work, if you will – and now my reputation on the site was toast. Why hadn’t she tried to talk to me about it first? Could she not have chosen her words more responsibly?

As I proceeded to moan about it on Twitter, I heard the faint sound of a very distant penny dropping…

Was it… was it possible that this is how artists felt when I slagged off their plays? Could it be that when that morning I had unsympathetically rolled my eyes at Anthony Horowitz’s laughable attempts to explain away the terrible reviews for his play Dinner With Saddam I had in fact rolled my eyes at a kindred spirit?

Surely not. I mean for starters, Airbnb reviewers have a lot more power than theatre critics: I’m not saying our collective opprobrium can’t do a show over, but that single review was surely going to make me unbookable by all but the genuinely foolhardy. And whereas I had clearly been horribly wronged, the relative handful of shows I’d given the one-star treatment to – Viva Forever!, Dinner With Saddam, Wag! The Musical, some other stuff I’ve repressed – definitely all deserved it. Didn’t they?

I mean ultimately there’s only so much self-reflection I can actually allow myself to take out of this before I decide I should run off to join the priesthood or something. I have to believe that what I write is more altruistic and more entertaining than my Airbnb hatchet job or else… well I guess that makes me a monster, doesn’t it? But there’s no denying that the sense I’d been horribly, unfairly done by probably offered some sort of valuable insight into why we don’t tend to get thank-you notes when we say somebody’s show is terrible.

So did I learn a valuable lesson? Kiiind of.

Reader: I complained about the review to Airbnb, which took it down. This either makes me a professional upholder of critical standards or a monstrous hypocrite. But whatever – I no longer have a bad review, and it feels great.

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