Is the star system still valid for reviews?

Tina Finch, 3 August 2012

Session called by Andy Corelli


Andy Corelli, Tin a Finch, Laura Bradshaw, Michael Emhaut, Peter McMaster, Suzy Glass, Neil Murray, Keiran Hurley, Jo King, Thom Dibdin, Debbie Hannan, Gary McNair, Stewart, Jesse Phillipi & others who floated in...


(Those participants present, if I have misrepresented anything you said, please feel free to correct!)

Most folk had strong feelings about stars. Many ‘hated’.

Thom, as a reviewer, dislikes the star system. If there has to be one, he would like a 7 star system which has a logical mathematical basis to it.

People could see the benefit of stars as a marketing tool but it takes the focus away from the words the reviewer has written. It’s the fast food review.

New York Times don’t do stars and they are very influential. Tabloids love stars.

though feel obliged to use them, we need a filtering system. Words are more useful.

Do stars need the stars?

I don’t like them because they have an emotional attachment to them.

How did they start?

It was noted that production of Beggars Opera at the Lyceum last year received everything from 1* to 5* and this was used to good effect in the marketing: ‘You decide!’ This also made it a ‘must see’ show.

There have been many occasions when the words don’t match the stars and vice versa.

Distrustful of system that rates theatre.

Actors love a 4* star review but there is lots of pressure if it is a 5* show. On the news this morning, someone won a gold medal...’now I have to be the best in the world’.

What and who are reviews for? Audience? Performers? Those who wont go but want to know whats happened?

A review is looking back at something and is just one persons perspective. Does visual art have stars?

Are we the people that need the star system? Need to activate a relationship between

audience and performers that is not so simple as stars, more complex. How do we encourage greater audience into theatre? Is is demeaning to distill the show down into shit/fine/good?

Encourage folk to see shows that are relevant to them. Eg Thom has football friends that he would never discuss theatre with but he knew they would be interested in Black Watch so encouraged them to see this show...and they loved it...but he doubts this would motivate them to see anything else. That show was right for them.

In days gone by, early last century and post war, pre-internet, there was more artistry in discourse. Read Kenneth Tynans writings.

On one level, stars denigrate the art, we want an open democratic discussion.

But – it could alienate the public if we lose the star system.

Do stars help performers/companies get funding? Not necessarily, doesn’t tick any boxes as most currently stand.

There is a culture of immediacy – reflection of where our society is. It de-intellectualises things which is not a good thing.

People don’t like to give a negative opinion. Thom said he was known as “2 star Thom”, so a company was ‘chuffed’ that for one of their shows he gave them 3*. This was high praise indeed!

What do the ushers think? They want dialogue.

A 3* review from The List is a 4* from other publications.

Maybe have a cumulative star rating for the year. Provides a shorthand overview of the overall context of the production you are wondering about seeing. They may have got 2* for this show but their overall mean is 4* based on shows to date for the year, say. This was suggested by Gary McNair and will, if taken up by the press and theatre community, henceforth be known as the “McNair Constellation”.


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