New European Directive Outlaws Critical MisquotesDate: 27 May 2008
A new European Union directive came into force yesterday (26 May 2008) outlawing theatre producers from using misquoted reviews to publicise their shows. The legislation, entitled the “Unfair Commercial Practices Directive” aims to ensure that businesses do not attract trade on the basis of misleading information. If found guilty of breaking the new laws, producers could be fined up to £5,000 or face up to two years in prison.
It is standard practice for shows to display selected critical quotations on theatre hoardings and in advertisements in order to entice audiences, but some critics have complained that their words have been used to suggest the opposite of what they’ve written. In one example, the most recent West End production of Guys and Dolls was described as “hilarious”, whereas in fact the critic in question was praising a previous production and said the revival "falls somewhat flat".
The directive, an 18-page document which also applies to other arts and retail industries, is aimed at providing consumers with greater protection from smoke-and-mirrors marketing strategies. Andy Millmore, head of advertising and marketing at solicitors Harbottle & Lewis, told the Evening Standard: "If comments are taken out of context and cause me to spend £30 on a theatre ticket against my better judgement, that is technically criminal."
But not everyone is in favour of the new measures. Whatsonstage.com critic Michael Coveney questions the implications of the new ruling: “To start moaning that producers sometimes skim the odd epithet or fulsome sentence from an unfavourable notice is as foolish as to complain that critics have failed to represent the show fairly in the first place.”
Coveney, who describes the legislation as “bonkers”, also doubts how the law will be enforced: “The only alternative to quotation is to print the full review, which is obviously impracticable. The other alternative is not to quote from reviews at all, which would then allow producers not to invite critics at all.”
Despite these questions over the enforceability of the ruling, producers may have to tread more carefully when it comes to selecting quotes to adorn their billboards. A recent survey suggested that up to 30 percent of West End shows are promoted by "praise" from reviews which were in fact critical when read in full.
- by Theo Bosanquet