A EU directive issued in 2007 promised - or threatened - that theatre producers who misleadingly quote reviews in show publicity material could face the threat of legal action, as reported in The Stage at the time. It hasn’t yet, as far as I know, yet been put to the test. But I may have just found a case that might work: leafing through the Guardian’s G2 today, I spotted an ad for Madame Zingara’s Theatre of Dreams - a show I am astonished to discover is still apparently running in a tent in the shadow of Battersea Power Station that I reviewed here.
They have understandably at least not quoted from that review, misleadingly or otherwise, but offer, in their display ad in today’s Guardian, one that offers this testimonial: “Delicious food, fabulous show, talented cast, all in all, an enchanted evening”; and it is credited to The Outside Organisation. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? They’re none other than the show’s London PR agency!
Yet, weirdly, on the website for the show itself, that same quote appears attributed to something called Reveal magazine. Now since I rarely scour the shelves of WH Smith for the latest magazines, I’ve had to actually look this one up, and discovered that it’s billed as a “celebrity magazine written by celebrities”.
So they’re obviously not entirely sure where that favourable review came from; but they’re clearly not in doubt that a PR’s own puff “review” can be used to endorse their own product. Another quote on the site is also attributed to one Penny McDonald: “The perfect night out - scrumptious food, a terrific show, impromptu dancing to end the evening… Heaven!” And where is McDonald from? The Outside Organisation! And a quick visit to The Outside Organisation’s own website informs me that she is no less than its managing director! Interestingly, though, her biography suggests serious journalistic credentials, too: “She spent 13 years as a journalist and section editor with the Telegraph newspaper group. Then it was on to consumer and contract magazine publishing where, along with shaping and directing many big titles, she launched, as Editor in Chief, Rupert Murdoch’s biggest read magazine, Sky. Before accepting the job at Outside, she was Editorial Director and a Board member at Publicis in London in charge of 12 leading brand titles.”
So, if you don’t get the quotes you want, you obviously make up your own, and by naming yourself as the source, you’re presumably in the clear. Or are you? Surely there’s an implied inference that a quote is independent, and not on the inside - even if, in this case, inside means being Outside.
It immediately makes me suspicious of the other quotes splashed on the homepage of the Madame Zingara site. There’s one attributed to someone called York Membery of the Financial Times, and even if the name sounds made up, there is indeed a York Membery on the FT website - but none that points to a review penned by that person of this show. Then again there’s a quote attributed to Lizzie Catt of the Daily Express: “A rare and exhilarating experience in opulent, intimate surroundings.” Her review is indeed online here, and though there are plenty of good quotes in the review - “Madame Zingara’s big top is to glitz what the Tardis is to unexpected elbowroom” is my favourite - but nowhere can I find the quote stated.
That’s surely as misleading as a misquote can be: to use entirely new words and still claim that they come from the same journalist. Now all we need is for some unwary consumers to state that they acting on these reviews influenced their behaviour to buy tickets to see it, and we could have a clear case of a show that falls short of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.