In my Short Shorts blog last Friday, I mentioned that one tweeter/critic, who was there on press seats as a guest of the management, had tweeted - as early as the interval - how much she was hating Rock of Ages that she’d seen the night before. And then again at the end of the show, her tweets made it perfectly clear how much she had hated it, before noting, “My review is embargoed till next week though.”
Never mind that she’d effectively already declared her critical hand. The reviews are officially out this morning; but in fact yesterday two papers, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph, both jumped the gun and put their reviews up already.
This was in clear breach of the terms of the invitation that went out to critics when we were asked to come to see it on one of six preview performances, starting last Thursday and running through to Tuesday, which specified that reviews were not to run until this morning.
Of course, the producers aren’t going to be complaining much about a four-star rave in The Independent, which concludes, “As a feelgood, singalong, rock’n’roll musical it’s hard to fault” and declares it to be “the most fun I’ve had at a musical since Jersey Boys.”
Naturally context is all, and that qualification speaks volumes. But more importantly, I didn’t recognise the by-line at all: the review was written by someone called Pierre Perrone. And although it doesn’t, of course, disqualify him from being a critic, I was intrigued to discover from a google search that he was, in a former life, editor of the top shelf, soft-porn magazine Men Only for Paul Raymond.
Meanwhile the Telegraph, who also broke the embargo, had a one-star pan from its regular critic Charles Spencer, who opened his review by declaring, “This is as unpleasant a pile of theatrical poo as it has ever been my misfortune to tread in.”
I know what my opinion was, of course, as I’d gone into the press performance last Thursday, but I kept my own counsel. Until now: although I’m not reviewing it for The Stage, I personally think it makes We Will Rock You seem as if it comes from the golden age of Broadway that stretched from Carousel to Follies.
Yet I realise, even as I write those words, that this show’s target audience won’t have seen, let alone heard of, Carousel or Follies, much as I have never heard of the likes of Poison, Whitesnake, Foreigner, Starship, Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe that feature here.
Which begs a question posed to me by someone on Twitter: “Why did they send someone like Charlie who will never enjoy that sort of show anyway?!” In fact, if any mainstream critic was going to like this sort of thing, I’d wager it would have been Charlie; he, after all, is a rock child, whose CD collection is far more likely to feature these bands than musical theatre entries. (He once looked at the CDs in my flat and virtually buried his face in despair; a few days later, I got a package of CDs he wanted me to hear as a gift).
But the fact is that critics have, in any case, to cover the waterfront: unlike the public who make their choices of what to see based on their tastes and what they expect to enjoy (otherwise they wouldn’t choose them), we simply go as bidden (or sent). And sometimes we can even be surprised, shocked or converted.
There does, however, seem to also be a general misapprehension, and some confusion, about what was the press night anyway. Even someone working on the show tweeted yesterday, “No, it had it’s Press Night last night and it’s ‘Gala’ night tonight!!” I then explained that in fact the show had had four press nights, and he replied: “It’s funny what us technical staff and cast get told, I guess it’s only the producers who know!”
The seeds of confusion were certainly sown by the producers booking Tuesday as their original press night in the SOLT press night diary, and even designating it as a 7pm start time (the usual time for press nights). But subsequently the producers, through their press agents Corner Shop PR, invited critics to attend one of a series of previews, with the embargo rule in place.
Interestingly enough, Corner Shop were also involved in the press launch on Monday afternoon of the Globe to Globe season at Shakespeare’s Globe, which had an embargo on news reporting till that midnight that evening. And Ben Chamberlain, who runs Corner Shop, told the assembled throng that it applied to those who tweet and blog, too. Sometimes, clearly, these things need to be spelled out, as Rock of Ages proved both in the tweeting and its subsequent early reviews.