Critical dud: I Promise You Sex and Violence
Critical dud: I Promise You Sex and Violence
© Mark Savage

The Edinburgh Fringe is only a few days in but there are no shortage of talking points already. Chief among them on the theatre front is the fate of Northern Stage's marquee show I Promise You Sex and Violence, which has been savaged by critics and prompted a heartfelt response from director Lorne Campbell. (I'm seeing it later today, so don't wish to pre-empt a response, but I can't pretend my expectations are high from what colleagues have been saying.)

Campbell's predicament is one shared by countless others at the Fringe - in the face of bad early reviews, you have to find the will from somewhere to carry on with a three-week run. And having directed myself at the Fringe many moons ago, I know exactly what impact such reviews can have on a company.

I never imagined as a student director that, over a decade later, I'd be back in the capacity of a critic myself. But having been on the other side of the fence I don't wear the responsibility lightly, and always try to give constructive feedback. Sometimes, of course, reviews are felt very personally, and one feels especially for Campbell who, as artistic director of Northern Stage - in residence at a new venue this year, King's Hall - clearly feels added responsibility for delivering a dud. He writes:

Pretending this is happening to someone else is not going to help. It's me, Lorne Campbell, artistic director of Northern Stage and director of I Promise you Sex and Violence and I am going to do this: I am going to live in the given circumstances, pretend nothing, deny nothing but be exactly here.

An admirable response in the circumstances. And, small consolation though it may seem, at least Campbell is not putting himself on stage for judgement, as so many solo performers do every year. I remember a few years back I reviewed a one woman show about the murder of her mother by her step-father, a show which, despite such apparently dramatic material, proved dull and misconceived. I said as much in my two star review, only to receive an email the next day from the performer in question, attaching press clippings of the real story of her mother's murder and implying I was therefore in the wrong for criticising the show.

As awful as this poor girl's situation was (and I hasten to add it wasn't made explicit that the narrative was based on real events), I told her that I stood by my assessment of it as a piece of theatre, but dearly hoped she could work through the obvious trauma she had been through.

It was an episode that served as a sharp reminder of the very personal nature of performance, and that as a critic you're speaking very directly to the ego of those you criticise. I hope Lorne Campbell and others can take comfort from the fact that, whatever the press may say about their work, it's never personal.