Cotton Socks & Kid Gloves?

Two separate incidents this week, but sharing a tangled thread.

Firstly, a call received at NOT BAd HQ querying whether we had plans to review Holy Trinity First School’s Summer Show last week at The Maltings.  The caller in question was most put out upon hearing that, no, we had no such plans.  She was further dismayed to learn of our policy on reviewing children’s performances — we don’t.

“Well, then, perhaps you should.”

“Mm, no.  Don’t think so.”


“Because it’s an exercise in futility.”

“Nonsense.  It’s a chance to share with a wider audience how wonderful children are; how talented and creative.  Their hard work and purity of purpose shines as a beacon to cynical grown-ups through the medium of the performing arts …  I say, are you listening?”

“Hhm?  Oh, yes, I was just wondering when you were going to mention how children are packages of hope, joy and love dressed up with freckles and a lisp.”

“Sorry, I was so overcome with emotion I forgot.  Listen, you reviewing these performances will remind everyone just how precious a gift children are.  Your praise will boost their nascent self-esteem thus preventing them from making dubious life choices further down the road.  Garland, LiLo, Wee Jimmy Krankee?   If you ask me, they didn’t have enough positive reinforcement in their young lives.  But you broadcasting the fact that each darling, knock-kneed vessel of gorgeousness up there on The Maltings’ stage has BRIT School potential … well, it might empower them to think ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ could happen to them.”

“I see.  And what if — forgive me, I’m just throwing this out there —”

“No, no.  Go on.”

“What if these little bags of tousled-haired foetal-brilliance are rubbish?”


“Crap.  Beyond bad. So appallingly wooden that only a career in carpentry can save them.”

“You … did you … how can you possibly … you can’t say that, they’re, they’re … children!”

Ah, we’re back to that exercise in futility then.  My bad.”

No, here at NOT BAD we leave that sort of stuff to the professionals — The Berwick Advertiser and The Berwickshire News — hardened reporters, seasoned from years spent on the front line of infant entertainment reportage, venturing into this no-man’s-land to bring us back parental reassurance in the form of blanket praise and pictures of our beloved offspring dressed as a rabbit, say, or the Virgin Mary.

This is, of course, how it should be.  Any performance involving young children is a joy not because of the subject matter or how well/bad it’s delivered, but because — bloody hell! — they’re cute and they’re ours!

And let’s be honest, as a parent do you actually look at any child on stage but your own?  Really?  

Because the bare fact of the matter is (and you’ll never hear this out loud for fear of invoking the wrathful ghost of Princess Di) other people’s children, well, they’re just not that interesting are they?   They’re just kinda meh;  an inferior version of our own kids that haven’t been as well brought up. 

Whose heart doesn’t sink when, at a dinner party, the hostess wheels out a two-year old to sing ‘Old MacDonald’ with his fingers in his mouth? 

All the verses.  Twice.

And then this sprog, hyperactive from being kept up past his bed-time, takes the glow of pride in his mother’s eye as carte blanche to interrupt the rest of the evening with spontaneous cow impressions, thus ruining any chance for the adults to get off their clackers on Blossom Hill.

Just as you wouldn’t dream of telling the hostess that her child is stealing the only opportunity you’ve had all week to numb the monotonous pain that is your life by going blind through alcohol poisoning — and, by the way, did she know the kid sings flat? — so NOT BAd undertakes not to review kiddie performances on the basis that we’re all adults, a lot of us are parents.  We know the score.

The second carriage, then, trundling along the same track of reviewing morality:

NOT BAd found itself at a social gathering on Sunday lolling in a deck chair next to a member of the Duns Players.  We were very lucky to grab a few words with him before he laudably got trashed on Pimm’s and fell asleep, while we tripped over a croquet hoop and laughed far too loudly.

The gentleman expressed doubts about the notion of amateur actors being reviewed, and wondered whether or not it would put off new people from giving am-dram a go.  We debated the pros and cons for a happy half-hour or so without coming to a hard-and-fast conclusion, but what do you think?

Are adults who get up on stage nothing but show-offs who should be able to handle some criticism aimed in their direction, or should our amateur actors be gently encouraged?  And what about pro-am versus community theatre — should different sets of critiquing criteria apply?  Should the paying public be able to buy a ticket in expectation of a certain standard of performance, or should we be happy to support amateur actors in their hobby, no strings attached? 

Finally, do reviewers have a responsibility to tell it how it is or, if they haven’t got anything nice to say, should they say nothing at all?

NOT BAd looks forward to hearing from you! 



NB:  NOT BAd has a comments policy whereby all comments are welcome on the basis that they are respectful of other correspondents’ viewpoints.  Any comment deemed to be offensive will not be posted.


8 comments on “Cotton Socks & Kid Gloves?

  1. Primary school productions? A cute picture of the little darlings for those of us not present to coo over or ignore would suffice. And as for those whose kids don’t appear in the shot…they can instruct their prodigy how to jostle for position next year.

    As for am-dram/community/etc performances – reviews are part and parcel of stepping into the limelight. But you (why do you refer to yourself as ‘we’?) are right that we often expect a more tender approach for am-dram…honesty by omission tends to rule. After all, we do want them to come back next time, don’t we?? We are incredibly blessed with the wealth of talent – and the opportunity to show it off…I’d hate to see us going down the route of simple annihilation.

    • Hi Jackie, I (me!) now have a great mental image of a children’s free-for-all photo-op!

      Good comment and I broadly agree, although maybe I would go further and mention if something is truly atrocious. I like to think that the public will support am-dram, and am-dram will respect that support by pulling out all the stops.

      (So you know – I use ‘we’ when the matter has been discussed with other contributors and I’ve taken an overview, and ‘I’ when a view expressed is entirely my own. Of course, if I’m writing in the early hours of the morning, it’s anybody’s guess!)

  2. Ah, My dear Ms. Flyte you pose such interesting questions.

    With regard to the children, I must agree. The splendour of the performance is in direct proportion to how close their DNA profile matches mine. My children are veritable prodigies, my nieces quite charming, but alas business always takes me away the night of my cousins’ carol concert.

    However, when it comes to the level of honesty you should display regarding the offerings of adult am-drammers we must first ask another question. Put simply, what is your purpose as a reviewer?

    It may be that you are possessed of such a fine sensibility for the performing arts that not to share your insights with us would be an act of folly bordering on the criminal.

    Perhaps you are the new Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde and any target that crosses your sights is as fair game for your witty volleys as a lumbering pheasant in front of a bored heir to the throne.

    Or could it be that you understand and share some of the motivations that allow the shop worker, the doctor, the mechanic and the business analyst to come together and try to create something they can then share with their community?

    By all means deflate the pompous, ridicule the pretentious and laugh at the ragged backside of the vainglorious but please, find some gentility for those who aspire but don’t quite succeed. The cost of admission to an am-dram performance is not a licence to be verbally vicious under the cover of an honest, ‘warts and all’ review.

    The motivations of the Berwickshire Advertiser we understand and we are partners in their dance around the local stage. We glean as much from what is not said as that which appears on the inky page. The motivations of NOT BAd are, at present obscured to us.

    I am sure I am not alone in looking forward to your thoughts and the clarity they will bring.

    I am your servant, Ms Flyte.

    Sancho Panzer

    • Dearest Sancho

      I am not sure I possess a linguistic dexterity worthy of your own eloquence! If only you would take up graffiti, our bus shelters could be a better place.

      You raise some very good points although, forgive me, I shall leave the most interesting one – motivation of the amateur actor – for another post. Perhaps you feel you could contribute to this? I must say you seem to me to be a man with much of note to say and NOT BAd’s readership would only benefit. In the meantime …

      I know the work that goes behind amateur productions, the commitment required. I’ve performed and stunk so bad I’ve made eyes in the front row water. I’ve written and directed. I’ve been a tree (but never a spear carrier – I still live in hope). I have nothing but great affection for the world of am-dram and those who inhabit it, because it’s my world.

      So having been part of the am-dram community for several years and knowing its ins and outs, I’m aware of the difficulties faced by local press when it comes to reviewing our efforts – for the very reasons you so beautifully make. However, at many after-show parties the actors themselves have expressed disappointment at the indiscriminate praise; they want recognition, dammit! They haven’t been doing their vocal exercises three times a day just to be lumped together with the bloke who carries on the newspaper. While, yes, amateur productions are all about the wider community coming together, be under no illusion. Individual egos run riot.

      But why not give out a few bouquets to those who have excelled? Reward those who have gone that extra stage direction? I’m all for it as you can tell, but then I also believe they should bring back competitive sports days in primary schools …

      Problems arise with complacency. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it. When a company gets a good reputation and coasts, confident that they have no-one to please but a tame audience of friends and family. This does nobody a favour. This is the type of attitude that gives am-dram a bad name, that trashes all the efforts of those trying to deliver something worthwhile.

      So should am-drammers be held accountable? Yes, I guess is what I’m saying.

      This is not the same as saying they should be held up and ridiculed. I agree with you, within community theatre (as opposed to pro-am) ability is diverse – that is a large part of its appeal; it’s this unevenness that lends a warmth missing in more professional productions. Nobody should be discouraged from having a go. I would only ask that everyone involved commits, truly throws themselves into it heart and soul, because am-drammers – and I count myself as one – are in a very privileged position in that the community funds our hobby.

      That should always be remembered and never abused.

      And there I think, Sancho, you have my motivation.

      Chastity Flyte

      • Well done Chastity you’ve lured the eloquent Sancho into referring to himself in the plural too!

        I feel like telling you both to speak (write that is) in plain English but that, of course, would be less entertaining.

        I’m all for competitive sports days as long as my kid wins and all for addressing compacency and keeping people (even am-drammers) to account – as long as when it’s my turn people are gentle with me.

        PS Is it a Berwick thing to have a nom de plume? I’m worried that I’ve blown my chance to be mysterious…

      • Ha, I KNOW! You can’t imagine how chuffed I was when I noticed! Isn’t Sancho eloquent though? I’m having inappropriate thoughts just thinking about his sentence structure …

        In the world of am-dram writing, it is quite the very thing to have a nom de plume. It’s so we don’t get stabbed on our way down West Street by a piqued performer. If you wish to work some mystery into your life you might, of course, prefer a balaclava.

      • My dear Ms Flyte,

        Thank you for your most elucidating response. Already the path before us is clearer. We almost walk side by side.

        I thank you for your flattery. However, I fear that when it comes to linguistic dexterity I all too often slash at my meaning with a sabre where you may dart in with the rapier. I think I must be nimble to avoid the touché.

        Now, to once again take up our theme. If I understand you correctly, the aim of NOTBAd is to act by turns as a spur, a scourge, a salve and an honest mirror. These are qualities that you perceive as lacking in the more traditional media. This is a worthy challenge. And it is one that you undertake from the position of angry insider. I say angry rather than driven or dissatisfied for is not the root of the desire to change things anger at the way things are? We are plain speakers, you and I.

        You write, “I would only ask that everyone involved commits, truly throws themselves into it heart and soul…” Here, we approach the nexus of both performance and criticism. Might I suggest for this we use the term, ‘honesty’?

        In performance, this is clear. We applaud not only the actor who gives a flawless performance but equally, or in even greater volume, the one who may slip, lose some lines but remains in character and strives to create something for us. They have been honest with their audience. This is especially important for the amateur actor as it is quite separate from ability, training or technique, desirable though these are.

        Thus also, for the critic of the amateur performance, it is honesty that must be their guiding light. And here, this quality must start with an internal reflection. What is my role as a critic? To criticise the work of another is, by its very nature, a relationship of inequality. We should not hide from this. Indeed, if you are to fulfill your aims – as I have stated them – then you must firmly establish it. Obtaining praise from a source that you believe inferior and devalued is the very thing you rail against. While this is necessary, it is not without an element of noblesse oblige.

        So, when Ms Chastity Flyte takes up her pen and asks, ‘What is my role as a critic?’ she answers ‘Because I wish to make things better.’ Forgive my crudity in distilling this down to a simple essence but I believe this is what you are telling me. Therefore dear lady, allow me to suggest that honesty, bound by the desire to see things improve, must be both your touchstone and your unimpeachable defence. If you stray from this once, you lose all the credibility you may have gained. There are wolves by the wayside. Be under no illusion; individual egos run riot.

        “Enough, you old windbag!” I hear you cry. And you are right. I must not outstay my welcome. I look forward to your thoughts on the motivations of amateur actors and wish you well on your adventure.

        Finally, thank you for your career advice. Such is the paucity of public transport provision nearby that I was unaware that bus shelters still existed. I will now give your suggestion due consideration.

        I remain your humble servant,
        Sancho Panzer.

      • Oh, Sancho,

        If only they taught you at school, our young adults could demand money with menaces with a silver tongue.

        Running quickly through a few points you raise (I have a jealous husband):

        While I find my mind trysting with yours at several discreet locations, I would disagree that anger is the root of a desire for change. Anger neither drives me, nor informs. Passion, however, can lead to all sorts of unexpected adventures. My passion for am-dram seeks to elevate and exalt, but not to love blindly; a blinkered loyalty to a cause is to do that cause a gross disservice. It stunts growth and encourages bad habits.

        I agree it is necessary to maintain credibility at all times; no easy feat and, believe me, I feel the wolves’ breath. I hope, though, in time NOTBAd’s intentions will reveal themselves to be pure. And remember, there will always be the local press for those wishing to be soothed, and NOTBAd for those who wish for… you prefer the term honesty, I understand. These two camps can be mutually exclusive, unless mischief is afoot, of course. Getting somebody else to do the dirty work is as old as Lady Macbeth’s dry nipple…

        I hope I can head off your obvious concern by promising that if at any time my own ego slips its lead and runs riot, I’ll have it first say “Excuse me, please” and restrain it from dropping a fire extinguisher on your head.

        Yours ever in admiration,


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