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Should we take critics recommendation as gospel?

 Saturday, 2nd September, 2017

Theatre critic and member, Mark Shenton talks critical amnesia and being a repeat offender.

It was a relief to recently read this confession by the Daily Telegraph's chief theatre critic Dominic Cavendish: "Quite often when someone asks what I’ve seen, and what I’d recommend, I go completely blank. Mercifully, I’m not alone in this – other critics will admit to a similar amnesia. It’s one of the hazards of the job. You’re so focused on the next big review that what has just been appraised can be swiftly forgotten."

I've sometimes suffered an even worse amnesia: when I'm asked what I saw the night before, I often can't remember what it was! 

It's partly about memory space: seeing as much as I routinely do, my head is pretty full of titles. But it's also about avoidance: I want my written words to speak for themselves (if you really want to know what I think about a show, check my review -- or my Twitter feed if you have a shorter attention span). I also don't like to answer the question Cavendish was asked about recommending stuff, as I can only speak for myself and my own tastes of what I liked -- and without knowing more about you or your tastes, I simply can't guess what you might enjoy. Its for you to read the review and make up your own mind, based on the information it has hopefully provided. 

But one thing I can happily admit to is being a serial repeater. When I fall in love with a show, I simply can't get enough of it. I've seen the musical version of Groundhog Day that premiered at London's Old Vic last summer six times so far -- three times during its original London run, then three more times since it moved to Broadway earlier this year. Alas, it is soon closing there (on September 17), but I'll be back in New York for the last week of its run there, and have already booked (and paid!) to see it twice more. 

So ask me what my favourite Broadway show is at the moment, and I'd freely answer with this title. 

Then, of course, there are the returning favourites: shows I already know and love, and are about to be presented in a new production. The show I've been looking forward to most all year is the National's revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1971 masterwork Follies. I saw its first London production at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1987 at least 16 times, and expect I may see this production as many times (if I can secure the tickets, that is). I even did that rare thing for a critic, which is to buy a ticket for the very first preview. This is unusual because critics are usually expected to wait patiently until the first night to see the production when it is deemed 'finished' and ready by its creative team; but I just needed to see it straight away. I will, of course, be back for the first night on September 6 -- and many times after that. I've also already booked for the last night of the show's run on January 3.

The last night is another ritual sadder but often even thrilling than the first one, when the show's fans gather to send it on its way. I've also already booked to see Audra McDonald on her final night in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at Wyndham's Theatre on September 9. I first saw this phenomenal performance by a phenomenal actress when she originated it on Broadway in 2014; she was due to bring it to the West End in 2016, but fell unexpectedly pregnant. We finally got the chance to see her here back in June; and now I'll be there again. 

It's the highest recommendation I can think of.



* MARK SHENTON is associate editor of The Stage and reviews London theatre openings for