Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene 1
What makes a five star show?
To be honest, this is kind of an unanswerable question, but the (very minor) Twitter controversy over my latest “confused” review of Kinky Boots has made me realise perhaps I need to make it a little clearer how I decide my production star ratings.
Many people, including the lovely and incredibly talented West End Wilma felt I was a little harsh giving Kinky Boots only three stars, despite a pretty positive review overall. Now, I concede I definitely wrote that review in rather a hurry, and so it probably does feel a bit confused. However, I stand by the rating.
What’s surprising that usually I’m criticised over being overly generous! And it’s true, I very rarely give a two or one star review – partly because I genuinely do find something to enjoy or something that interests me in almost everything I see (hooray for great theatre!); and partly perhaps because I see more West End and less Fringe theatre (not that Fringe theatre is in anyway worse – in fact it’s often better and more original to boot – but there’s less budget available and with less publicity, perhaps less constant checking for success – though if I’m wrong on this, do correct me!).
My reviews mostly vary between 3 and 4 star ratings, and sometimes I even cheekily sneak half stars in for when I really want to differentiate between very similar but slightly different shows.
A five star show, however, is far more rare. A five star show has to have something other than a great cast, fab set and magnificent directing. For me, it has to be a production that leaves me slightly amazed; one that I just want to talk about to everyone I meet; one that either really makes me laugh or really makes me think. It’s a kind of undefinable quality that perhaps has more to do with me than than entirely the show itself.
Despite this, my aim is always to give five stars to the things I can’t recommend highly enough, the things I truly think you would enjoy and the shows I’m just desperate for you to see so that we can have intense fandom discussions about it!
Urinetown, The Trial, King Charles III have all left me flabbergasted and therefore, in my view, earned their five stars. Brilliant productions like Kenneth Branagh’s The Winter’s Tale and the RSC’s Death of Salesman got four stars because they were technically superb but I didn’t get the feeling, where I want to grab people on the tube and force them to come see it with me because I just know their lives will be better if they do. Kinky Boots got three stars because it was enjoyable, but I felt Charlie was a bit of a weak protagonist; there were elements, such as Lola’s struggle to be accepted in Northampton, that could have been capitalised on further; and I have no real desire to see it over and over again.
Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you think it’s infuriating not to reward technically excellent productions, or perhaps you just did get “the feeling” from Kinky Boots or something else I’ve three-starred. As to the latter, that is absolutely your right, and it’s one of the things I love most about theatre; that everyone has their own favourite that suddenly thrills and inspired them, and that you can’t predict an audience’s reaction to anything. To those arguing the former, again, that is your perogative. But to feel something is, I think, the point of theatre, and a production technically superb that leaves me cold is not one I would want to recommend unhesitatingly to anyone else.