[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/77449?ns=guardian&pageName=Don%27t+be+misled+on+selective+quotes+%E2%80%93+it%27s+partly+the+critics%27+fault%3AArticle%3A1310711&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CWest+End%2CCulture+section&c6=Michael+Billington&c7=09-Nov-26&c8=1310711&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2Fblog%2FTheatre+blog[/img]Promoting a stage version of The Shawshank Redemption by quoting a review of the film is pretty silly, but critics aren't as innocent as all that
The old issue of selective quotes is back in the news. This time it's because The Shawshank Redemption at Wyndham's in the West End boasted a glowing tribute from a Charles Spencer review in the Torygraph. "A superbly gripping, genuinely uplifting prison drama," cried the billboards outside the theatre. The only trouble was that Spencer was referring to the 1994 movie rather than the stage version, which he cordially disliked.
Whoever was stupid enough to wrench that quote from the review deserves a rap over the knuckles. At the same time, I can't get too worked up about the practice of mischievous misquotations. First, it's usually shows doomed to early closure or, as in the case of The Shawshank Redemption, those with a limited run that indulge in the practice. Second, the West End has cleaned up its act recently, possibly because of an EU ruling that makes such misrepresentation illegal. In fact, I now find the more scrupulous PRs ring up in advance to check if it's OK to quote from a review.
But the main reason why I can contain my anger is that critics often lay themselves open to misquotation. I learned this early in my career when I ended a review of an unspeakable revival of The Desert Song by saying that "a lone voice in the gallery cried, 'This is what we want'. "Naturally, it was only the last five words that appeared outside the theatre. But all too often, critics fall into the trap of using what I can only call the negative superlative. If you write, "This could have been the rudest, raunchiest, most rollicking night of the year but it exploded with all the excitement of a damp fart", you can predict what's going to happen. No one's going to post the words "a damp fart" in blazing neon outside the theatre.
As critics, we all give hostages to fortune. Being such a charitable breed, even when we hate a show we usually strain to find something we can praise. At a musical we may loathe the measly melodies, the banal book, the simpering soprano and the tone-deaf tenor, but we often incorporate a qualifying phrase about "some spectacular magic effects" in the second act. It's partly because of our innate kindness. It's also because I suspect, at some subconscious level, critics love to be quoted. In fact, it may not be all that subconscious: I remember a long-gone critic revealing that he once drove around Drury Lane especially to see his glowing review of Camelot displayed on a huge hoarding outside the theatre.
None of this excuses misleading ads. But, if we don't want to be misquoted, we should be wary of penning phrases that beg to be extracted like a wobbly wisdom tooth. If managements sometimes maul our fine-tune prose, we ourselves are partly to blame.
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Guardian: Theatre marketing isn't always what it seems | Michael Billington
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