Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review Squared, February 5, 2013

Diff’rent Folks, Diff’rent Strokes
by Valerie Cardinal

Two weeks ago, I went to see fright-flick Mama with some of my friends. When the movie ended, we had a big group discussion about it. Some of us, me included, loved it. Others hated it. Even those that had enjoyed the film as much as I did had a different way of explaining the plot and analyzing the themes. What I find interesting is that we all saw the same movie, but we all had different things to say about it. 

Writing reviews for theatre is a lot like that, but amplified, since everything is done live. One of my favourite things about reading reviews is that everyone writes differently. All writers have different opinions, tastes and life experiences that come into play when they critique a theatrical production. 

Hush Magazine’s Meghan Leigh takes an interesting approach, keeping the plot summary short and mostly vague.

The focus of the review can shift dramatically, especially when the production is thematically and narratively dense. This week, I found that shift in multiple reviews of Leave of Absence at Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre.  The three articles I read said similar things, but put them in very different contexts. 

First of all, the plot was summarized differently in each one. Erin Jane at Review Vancouver has my favourite one-line summary: “The play is centred round a 14-year-old teenage girl at Catholic school who has heard the voice of God, a priest who has not, and the young girl’s vivacious single mother.” However, Jane then goes on to reveal even more plot details than other reviews, which could potentially lessen the impacts of these reveals when they happen onstage.

Hush Magazine’s Meghan Leigh takes an interesting approach, keeping the plot summary short and mostly vague. This is not necessarily a bad thing – I like that it keeps the reader intrigued and leaves them with questions. It’s an interesting route to take when the plot is so dense that writing the whole thing out would take up half your word count. Meanwhile, Gay Vancouver’s Mark Robins’s review is the most neatly structured, featuring a strong one-paragraph summary of a complicated-sounding plot. 

Even more interesting are the themes reviewers chose to emphasize. For example, Erin Jane is the only one out of three who mentioned the theme of society’s neglect of young people. Robins and Leigh stuck to discussing the themes of religion, spirituality and sexuality. 

This is where personal experience comes into play. My thoughts and feelings make a huge impact on what I think about a production, and I think that’s the same for everyone. Meghan Leigh mentions that even though she didn’t grow up religious, Leave of Absence gave her an interesting glimpse of what spirituality and the church potentially could be. Meanwhile, Mark Robins mentions that he had a chance to read the script beforehand, and the impact that this had on his viewing experience. 

Even though it may seem redundant to read multiple reviews of one show, everyone has a different way of putting things.  Just think of us as your friends, trying to start a discussion after a shared experience. 

1 comment:

  1. Your final comment hits the nail on the head and as a prominent Vancouver critic once said: "The fundament of a critic’s job, after all, is to fan the flame of devotion in those who already harbour it, and to excite that love in those who don’t."


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