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Ask Lyn: Should I still see a show even if it gets lukewarm reviews?

Ask Lyn: Should I still see a show even if it gets lukewarm reviews?

Ask Lyn: Should I still see a show even if it gets lukewarm reviews? cover photo on Stagedoor
Dear Lyn, I congratulated myself when I nabbed four tickets for The Human Voice, but now I’ve seen the reviews, I’m regretting my impetuosity. Any advice? - Pia, Thornton Heath

Hello Pia,

This is a ticklish one. When shows are high profile (in this case Ruth Wilson directed by Ivo van Hove, an already tried and tested partnership in Hedda Gabler at the NT) and on for a limited time they are very much subject to the laws of supply and demand. If you don’t buy tickets in advance, you risk missing out when everyone declares the show a hit and there is a box office rush.

I completely understand why you feel regret but presumably you bought the tickets in the first place because you love Wilson as a performer (who doesn’t?) and/or you are a van Hove fan. So, you are in no worse position than you were when you bought the tickets. You still get to see Wilson on stage (not something that happens regularly) and while the reviews have been lukewarm about the play and production, almost all of them have suggested that Wilson is magnetic. If you’ve been a van Hove fan in the past, you can watch this with an eye to what does and doesn’t work and why. It is interesting that van Hove’s work outside of his own company and in the commercial sphere is often less successful than when he works with an ensemble.

There is another point worth considering: are the critics right in their assessment? Maybe what you like most about theatre is not what the man from the Times or the Telegraph likes. Yep, critics see a lot of theatre and develop their own idea of what makes a great play or production from that variety and breadth of theatre-going, but it may not chime with your own aesthetic or what you think is a great theatre experience. It would be a dull world if we all agreed on what makes a great piece of theatre.

Ruth Wilson in The Human Voice, photo by Jan Versweyveld.

Which brings me to another point. When you go to see a show that has been lauded to the heavens by the critics, you go to the theatre with such high levels of expectation that quite frequently disappointment sets in. You leave thinking, “well that was quite good but not that good.” In my experience, it’s been the times when I have turned up with fewer expectations that I have often had the best night out.

And that is what the theatre is, a night out. Even if the show turns out not to be amongst your best theatre experiences, it can still be a great night out with friends. The Human Voice is 75 minutes long (not four hours) so maybe think of it as part of your evening out not necessarily the main event. At least the conversation after the show is likely to be lively.

With ticket prices so high, I’m not for a moment underestimating your feelings of disappointment. But I can absolutely guarantee that everybody involved in this project will have given it their all. However stellar the reputations of those involved, uncertainty always surrounds the process and end result which means you can never know in advance if the souffle will rise to perfection or sink. It’s the risk you take when you buy tickets in advance, but sometimes it’s a risk that delivers an exhilarating dividend. Would we really want it any other way?

Cover photo by Jan Versweyveld of Ruth Wilson in The Human Voice which runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre through the 9th of April, tickets can be found here.

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Lyn Gardner

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