It's an interesting process once you've written your show, once you've rehearsed it and then sent it off out into the big wide world to see what the audience and critics make of the little piece of you you've just sent them. It's even more interesting when people react in such different ways to the self-same piece of work. As a theatre maker with an ego (Hello Jasper Mountbatten III for those of you who've read before) I am incredibly reluctant to share any media critique that paints my work or that of my colleagues in a negative light. I suppose it's my instinct for self preservation kicking in, and in the absence of having to protect my fragile body from a sabre tooth tiger attack, I have decided to protect myself from a negative public image by pushing forward an image which is vastly skewed towards the positive.
I don't need anyone to tell me that this isn't healthy. In a similar way to the world of our everyday lives on faecbook and social media, we are able to control our public image to a huge extent (as long as we are not famous). I don't think this can be good for any of us. It holds us to the expectations of a reality that simply does not exist.
Last time These Trees Are Made of Blood came out in March 2015 I made a big old point of promoting as much as I could of what people said they enjoyed about the show and attempting to hide any negtive criticism away (negative things got no retweets or favourites on facebook or twitter and I had to fight the urge to write to every reviewer who I disagreed with to explain to them that they had missed the point entirely). Fortunately I have good, clever friends who assured me that this would be a very stupid idea.
However, with this particular show something has occured to me. These Trees Are Made of Blood is a cabaret metaphor that explores the smoke and mirror tactics used by the military Junta to blind the citizenry of Argentina to the truth of their horrific human rights abuses. Simply put, they were doing everything they could to hide the truth from their people. Donald Trump and the Republicans are doing it right now. The Brexiteers did it. They do it by telling people what they want to hear. To quote a line from our show: "..the lies the audience choose to believe."
I thought therefore that it would just be too ironic for me to post only the brilliant things that people are saying about the show. So here, I'm going to post links and quotes from the negative reviews as well as the positive ones.
If any of my colleagues in the cast don't want to know about these please stop reading now!!!!
This review has both positive and constructive criticism, is very well written, thoughtful and considered and has aspects that we as creators agreed with and have since set about improving and changing.
The London Economic
A very complimentary review which obviously Jasper Mountbatten III enjoyed very much.
This is my first review from Lyn Gardner, obviously Lyn is an institution in the world of reviewing and (as a friend reminded me today) it's quite an achievement for her to even come and see the show. Again it's very thoughtfully written and has some wonderfully positive things to say whilst also offering criticisms on parts of the show. Again, useful thoughts, some of which we agreed with and are keeping in mind for the future.
This review from Ann Treneman was particularly brutal, in fact when our PR sent it through to us she prefaced it with a caption that said "Brace yourselves!" In this instance it was clear that our use of cabaret simply did not read with this reviewer and as a result her entire experience must have been pretty bad. In fact, it would have been bordering on completely offensive. It's a bit like going on a blind date and realising within three minutes that you and your date have a completely different sense of humour. In cases such as those, it's best to chalk it up to experience.
West End Wilma
Another lovely review which had Jasper opening the bubbly and laughing like a maniac.
This was our first review in and knocked the wind from our sails a bit, but again has some lovely things to say and also some interesting and useful things to mention about the second act in particular. So while it was a hit, I still appreciate it as it is well written and thoughtful.
My Theatre Mates
Carole Woddis has written a very complimentary piece and had some interesting things to say on the length of the piece which we are now acting on and cutting down to make it tighter.
If I'm honest, this is one of the most bizarre reviews I've ever read, almost every sentence in it reveals the reviewers contempt for the piece, and so the four star rating sits incongruously with the content. It is rare that I will say I completely disagree with a reviewer, but in this instance I find it difficult to take seriously the fact that they gave four stars to a "dud end of the pier show". Really fascinating!
I think that's about all the reviews that have come in so far. Obviously there are the twitter comments coming in from audience members which are miniature reviews in themselves but given that people who bother to tweet about a show tend to tweet unanimously positively about their experience I won't post them here. If you want to find out what the audience are saying you can look here:
YOUTUBE: Audience Response
What I find really fascinating about reading all these reviews is the fact that there is such a split of opinion. Some people seem to really hate it and others are referring to it as one of the more profound theatre experiences of their lives. As a theatre maker, I want to make something that resonates with an audience in a deep way. The difficulty of that proposition is that I don't get to choose my audience. We all have our own hatreds and loves and we bring those to bear in the way in which we measure and judge the work of others. It's not our fault, it's just the way we are.
I think that remembering this is a good way to handle negative criticism. As I discovered in recent conversations with some critics, their motivations for writing critique are as many and varied as our reasons for making theatre. So if something in a review chimes with you as being true, then try to act on it. If it's just a difference of opinion... just like that blind date. Maybe best to let it go.
I would like to encourage others in a similar position of having critique that splits opinion to share those opinions with the world. Trust me, it actually makes you feel better. Life is a little bit easier when you aren't trying to hide something!
BOOK TICKETS TO THE SHOW
If any of these have tickled your fancy, grab a possie together and come on down to the Coup Coup Club... it's certainly one that is causing quite a stir and a debate amongst the critics... why not come and see for yourself! After all, we think that this is an important story that needs to be told.
We're on at the Arcola Theatre until the 15th July!
HOW DO YOU SELL A PIECE OF NEW MUSICAL THEATRE?
I ask this question because there's at least a couple of new musicals coming out over the next month, in particular The Superhero by Richy Hughes, Joseph Finlay and Michael Conley and one of my own These Trees Are Made of Blood by Amy Draper, Paul Jenkins and myself.
So how do you sell it? Well, shit. I don’t know. I just put that title up so people would read the blog... interestingly there are some parallels with that and selling new musical theatre... an element of trickery and deception perhaps?
How do you get people excited about something they’ve never seen before? How do you convince people to spend their own money, money that they’ve earned and could very easily spend on wine (which virtually guarantees a good time) on a new show, made by people they’ve never heard of about something they have displayed zero interest in.
I thought maybe one way I could get an audience is by writing a blog about why you should come to my latest show, but hopefully there will be something useful in there for other people trying to put a show on.
As mentioned previously my latest show is called These Trees Are Made of Blood.
This is a new piece of musical theatre. It takes a long time, a lot of people and a good proportion of money to put together work of this scale. I’m relatively new to the professional musical theatre having only been paid for my work for the last five years. But I think that the musical theatre community in London and the UK is growing, largely thanks to organisations like Mercury Musical Developments and Book, Music, Lyrics which offer opportunities for networking and professional development as well as a vital support network of friends in the industry. But work requires more than the support of those who are trying to put work on the stage. It requires an audience of people who want to see the work for the work’s sake.
So how do you get them through the door when you don’t have a million pound advertising budget. To quote Tennessee Williams “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” During it’s initial run at Southwark Playhouse two years ago, the show eventually sold out it’s last week based purely on word of mouth. It wasn’t selling well initially… because at first glance it probably isn’t something that you would like to go to see.
What this new piece of musical theatre is actually about is the true story of the Mothers of the Plaza de Majo, a group of women whose sons and daughters were tortured, murdered or “disappeared” during the Argentinian Dirty War of 1976-83. Sound like fun?
The show follows one mother’s journey from housewife to activist revolutionary over a period of thirty years. For years, the Madres fought against the fascist dictatorship that terrorised Argentina in peaceful protest, demanding the return of their children. These women were beaten, charged by armed police on horses, threatened, imprisoned and some of their number were murdered and disappeared themselves. Their public protest was an incredibly brave act of dissent in a country too terrified to speak out.
Despite this, the popular uprising that these women began eventually led to the downfall of one of the most notorious dictatorships in South American history. By the end of the Dirty War an estimated 30,000 civilians had been tortured, murdered and disappeared by the government. It then took nearly forty years for the democratic government of Argentina to bring those responsible to justice. Many of those involved still wander free on the streets of Buenos Aires today, rubbing shoulders with the parents of those they murdered.
Some of the leaders of the Dictatorship, in particular General Videla and Admiral Masseras were eventually sentenced (following numerous pardons) for crimes against humanity. Videla in particular was unrepentant, claiming that he did what was necessary to save the country. He died in prison.
The whereabouts of the majority of the disappeared remains unknown. Many were drugged and thrown from planes into the River Plata where they drowned.
And then the producer asks: “But who is your audience? Why should Joe Bloggs come and see it?”
Well, it’s a good question. And one that I will attempt to answer as best I can…
WHY SHOULD YOU COME AND SEE THE SHOW?
We are living in political times. Donald Trump is attempting to run an autocracy in the U.S.A, the UK’s government hangs in the balance, with a potential alliance from the far right DUP currently on the cards and Brexit looms over the E.U. We are now seeing the workings of government being scrutinised by the public in a way in which we have never seen before.
In the 1976 the Argentinean armed forces overthrew the government of Isabel Peron. No vote was taken, no mandate was given. If anything, the current state of politics means that we should not take for granted the rights that we currently enjoy. They can easily slip from our grasp. Stories like that of the Mothers of the Plaza de Majo remind us that every one of us is responsible for our political life and that politics affects all of us even if we think it doesn’t.
…and then the producer asks: “But who is your audience?”
I know all sorts of people will berate me for my answer and it's probably one of the reasons I'll never work in advertising, but it’s really the only answer I can give.
This show is for you.
Here is the link to buy tickets for the show, please come along and support new writing and important stories...