Julia Chamberlain kindly answers questions this week. Julia has reviewed for Chortle at the fringe since 2006.
How do you choose which shows to review?
I get assigned them by Steve at Chortle. I prefer that he picks them, otherwise I’d just waltz off to see people I know I’ll like, which is lazy and a bit pointless. He allows me to state a preference about people I’d rather not see, where I know I might be too subjective, in either direction. There’s no point in writing a witless piece of fan mail and calling it a review. Similarly, if I know I can’t stand someone’s act, but the popular prejudice is against me, it would be unfair to go and sneer my way through it.
Have PR people ever persuaded you go and see a show?
No, never had an approach directly. I never ever have enough time to see all the shows I would like to see, as I’m always doing more than one thing in Edinburgh, and it chokes me that I miss a huge number of shows that I would like to have seen.
What’s the best way to get you into a show?
Ask me, and I’ll go if it it fits in. I rarely decline anything unless it’s a scheduling thing.
What are the best shows you’ve seen at the fringe?
Des Bishop this year, left everything else in the dust. Criminal not to be nominated.
Can’t really ask about the best without mentioning the worst. What are the all time stinkers?
Attack of the Soccer Moms a few years ago was a ball ache. Something this year as well, but it escapes me. And the ones where someone thinks they’ve got to do a show, but doesn’t have anything to offer, but they’ll still talk with great vigour and enthusiasm for the allotted time and bore the pants off you.
Have you ever caught anyone altering one of your reviews for their shows on posters?
YES. He was highly selective with a quote missing out ‘not’ and showed 5 stars, but not coloured in.
Do you think free shows are good for the fringe?
On balance yes, it’s a reminder of the roots of all this. The main fringe is colossally expensive big business now, it’s rather disingenuous to call it “Fringe” when it’s now a main event and cost the price of a small car to put on.
How do you think free shows can improve and be taken more seriously?
The directors of each space should be more ruthless, maybe allow shorter runs, so that you do not get some god awful show clogging up the space for the month. Some are better than others at making the booking decisions, and they should perhaps try and see more of their own shows so they don’t fall into traps next year. And although it’s hard to refuse someone a spot who has had it before, if they are truly a no hoper, surely everyone benefits from their not returning for a year or two? Perhaps they grow out of it? I also think it’s pretty cynical putting on a solo show after 11 at night, the poor performer is going to get some properly scummy audiences at weekends and probably sod all in the week.
Is there any magic formula for a good show or is it simply a case of you know one when you see it?
If I knew the answer to that I’d be a rich woman. I think you can tell when someone’s worked hard at the writing and not thinking that they’ll wing it, hasn’t tried to pad out a scant 40 minutes with audience survey techniques, is passionate about what they are doing and actually has something to say rather just thinking they have to be there because
it’s what you do in August. People should be harsher critics of themselves and newer acts shouldn’t politely egg each other on to do hour or shared hour until they’ve really got something. Don’t just do it so just see if you can talk for an hour.