I understand that star ratings can make or break a show. They make good visual copy for a poster or a draw on social media.
They even make critics and bloggers more visible because the more four and five star ratings they give, the more publicity they get. Shows don’t tend to quote without little icons on their publicity.
And yet, I can’t bring myself to use that five star scale.
What is a star rating, anyway?
The star rating is supposed to be a mark of quality: a 1 is not worth your time, and a 5 means you must sell all your worldly goods for a ticket (often not that far from the truth).
Worryingly, three stars or below seems to constitute failure. Every show must be brilliant, fabulous, magnificent, remarkable. It’s just not possible.
Recently, I’ve been adding short reviews to the Stagedoor app to try it out, and there you have to add a star rating. Four and above and you are recommending a show: for me that causes a problem, because I might like a show but don’t see it as very good (****) or exceptional (*****).
There are plenty of solid, enjoyable shows out there which do not really deserve those top star ratings. They are not bad, either. They are the average, three star shows which I don’t feel particularly strongly about; and there will always be lots of them.
But we are not all the same!
It is also difficult to rate one show’s worth against another: the big budget musical, the difficult new WE play, the fringe revival, the experimental work watched by one man and his dog. If I gave something from each of these categories the same star rating, I am not saying they are the same thing.
Chalk and cheese, apples and oranges, a 2,000 seater and a budget of millions against a 40 seater and a budget of tuppence. To me, theatre is theatre. It is about celebration, informed and honest opinion, constructive criticism, and not about a show’s chart position.
If I rave about a show (a silent four- or five-star verdict), I’ll say why I genuinely love it. But mine is just one opinion of many.
Who are these ratings for?
To be honest, I’ve seen lazy reviews that say nothing of interest but have a big fat star rating at the end.
I want to know what a show has to offer me and what the cast, creatives and crew have conjured up together to bring their work to the stage. That’s far more valuable than just saying “this is the best thing since …”.
I do glance at star ratings, and they often surprise me.
But I don’t take them as the gospel truth: even a poor show has something to recommend it or can have something highlighted from kindness to make the failure not quite so acute.
Those one-star ratings can be unnecessarily crushing, just as full marks can make a company complacent.
And then there’s creative marketing, like this two-star Guardian review for a film made to look that little bit different.
The star rating and me
Star ratings should not be the only way to assess and promote theatre quality. In fact, they can be quite decisive and problematic at times. I note that the lack of higher star ratings for some shows caused issues at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
You won’t see star ratings here on LouReviews.
Nor will you see favourable reviews in lieu of press tickets – unless I really do love the show, that is, and then you’ll hear all about it.
If I don’t fall in love with a show, you’ll know, and I will always try to explain why.
I might hint at a show’s worth, but you can fill in the gaps. And that’s a lot more fun as a consumer … isn’t it?