FringeReview is a rather different kettle of review badgers, since (as of last year) it eschewed the punitive use of stars. It runs on a ‘recommendations-only’ basis; if their reviewer really hates your show, they simply don’t report on it, but will tell you, on the quiet, that it was shite (well, they word it more nicely than that).
While the intentions behind this are all very decent, there’s not a lot of difference at the end of the day. FringeReview’s own ‘policy’ page tells us that ‘recommended’, ‘strongly recommended’ and ‘outstanding’ equate to three stars, four and five. You kind of wonder why, when everyone else is trading in the US Dollar, FringeReview is using the equivalent of the Honduran Lempira. In fact, last year I saw the words ‘five star equivalent’ on a poster with a FringeReview critique (yes! They were Googling themselves so hard they found something by FringeReview!)
It’s nice to be spared the blushes of a shitty review by people who are, according to the site blurb, all “working writers, journalists, directors, dramaturgs and actors”. Presumably they know what the artist is going through. Yet a lot of things that are just ‘recommended’ don’t sound awfully good. Can you really ‘recommend’ something that’s so-so at best, when there are 2,000 other shows to choose from? We all know that, these days, three stars means not very recommended at all.
Most amusing is the mission statement announcing that: “Our reviewers do not review shows in which there is a clear conflict of interest with current , future or recently completed work projects in which they have an involvement. They do not review shows that compete for the same time/date slot as a show they are involved with. They do not review shows in which there are people they are have [sic] a current significant social or professional connection with.” Crikey. No wonder they don’t do all that many reviews. Also, there are some very good laws already in place (laws of physics mostly) guarding against reviewing a show that’s on at the same time as the one you’re performing in.
Fringepig holds that anyone reviewing while they’re performing is pooing into their own watering hole, but hey – these folks mostly concern themselves with theatre so we won’t make a case out of it. Anyway, we are assured that their very strict rules are “self-policed, but the FringeReview editors will take direct action against any reviewers breaking this code of conduct”.
Direct action, indeed! A few movie clips of their errant reviewers being flogged or firebombed out of their homes would give credence to this claim, and also give the site the original appeal its creators seem to be seeking in this overcrowded market.
In the end we are being asked to accept that THESE reviewers just want to be helpful. And that’s a pretty big ask.