Andrzej Lukowski: As a critic, getting a taste of your own medicine is no fun
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.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.