Claire Smith from the Scotsman newspaper kindly answers questions this week.
How do you choose which shows to review?
All the reviewers are asked for a list of shows they want to review. I usually make mine a mixture – maybe a few comedians I have seen but not written about – a couple of plays that look interesting – things that catch my eye because I’m interested in the subject matter – or the title or description in the Fringe programme makes me laugh.
The Scotsman arts desk then takes all the requests and assigns a list of shows for each of the reviewers.
Once I have my list it is my job to work through it. Generally once the list has been assigned there is not a lot of room for manoeuvre.
Have PR people ever persuaded you go and see a show?
PR people have persuaded me to go and see shows. The good PR people know you and know the kinds of things you like. It doesn’t often lead to you being commissioned to write a review but it does build up a relationship.
What are the best shows you’ve seen at the fringe?
I’ve seen some wonderful shows at the Fringe and some truly terrible ones. My favourite this year was The boy with tape on his face – but I also loved Louis Schaeffer’s free show outside the Mosque.
Can’t really ask about the best without mentioning the worst. What are the all time stinkers?
To get a one star review a show has to make me feel physically sick or make me want to throw things at the stage. I don’t give them out very often. Don’t see any reason for revisiting them but they are all still available online if you really want to know.
Have you ever caught anyone altering one of your reviews for their shows on posters?
Limmy once quoted me on a poster under an ugly shot of his face. The quote was: “really rather beautiful” – it was out of context but I thought it was funny. Sometimes good lines are pulled out of a bad review – that’s annoying – I try to write so it can’t be done.
Do you think free shows are good for the fringe?
I think free shows are great for the Fringe. It helps create a buzz around town. It brings in a new audience. I often listen to people in the queues and I have been really impressed by the atmosphere in free fringe queues. This year I noticed a lot of schoolchildren – lots of tourists – and people cramming in lots of shows every day – just like people used to do years ago before ticket prices went up.
The free shows I saw this year were great. I think they are taken seriously. Contrary to what a lot of people think I don’t believe there is a prejudice against free shows. The reality is that the number of shows is growing and the number of reviews commissioned by newspapers is shrinking.
I think there is a potential market for a publication which lists and reviews only free shows.
Unfortunately the bad blood between the different factions in the free fringe movement makes it unlikely this will happen.
Is there any magic formula for a good show or is it simply a case of you know one when you see it?
All I know is how it makes me feel – which is excited. A good show makes me want to skip down the street. It’s like falling in love. You can’t really define it – and every time it happens it feels like something totally new. Really good shows are the easiest to write about – you have so much to say the words just flow out of your pen or onto your computer screen – there’s no effort.