Earlier this week, actual, proper theatre critic Lyn Gardner wrote a piece for the Guardian’s theatre blog on the limitations of the star-ratings that now accompany most theatre reviews. I wonder what she’d make of Arlo’s five faces approach.
Here is his response to Story Pocket Theatre’s Arabian Nights (which we saw together on Tuesday). I should say up front that this is a show that had already earned a string of 4 and 5 star reviews when it was first performed at the Fringe last year winning The Primary Times' Children's Choice Award. His earliest verdict, ‘That was really great – I’d like to see that one again’, is perhaps not immediately communicated by the ‘sad face, smiley face, sad face, smiley face, sad face’ that he has drawn:
Some further explanation is needed I think. Bottom right of the picture (in red) is an ambulance with the dead body of ‘the little beggar’, a character from one of the tales told during the show. This clearly made quite an impression on Arlo. For those who don’t know or can’t remember their 1001 nights, ‘The little beggar’ is basically the story of a succession of townsfolk who mistakenly think they have killed the beggar of the title and try to hide his body. It was told here very entertainingly and to comic effect, but this clearly confused Arlo. ‘Getting killed is a bit thing. It isn’t a little thing’ he whispered to me part way through and in my own hushed tones I struggled to explain that that was true, but you sort of had to forget about that here. As it turns out, the little beggar has in fact still been alive the whole time and before too long the action on stage involved someone falling over and Arlo’s serious and uncertain face transformed as he laughed and laughed and laughed (in fact, its tempting to suggest that someone falling over is actually all that Arlo requires of any form of entertainment). Apparently the figure in blue at the bottom left, ‘shows that the person is okay again’ and the stars across the top are there ‘to show it is like when Michelangelo gets hit [in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles] and it isn’t really real’.
Nobody fell over in the second show we saw that day, Tall Stories' Alfie White: Space Explorer but even still Arlo wanted to review it with five happy faces (as balloons).
I’ll be honest, this confused me a little. I thought the show was really rather wonderful - poignant and thoughtful and beautifully performed – but I’d assumed on the basis of Arlo’s wriggles (and at one point somewhat embarrassing yawns) that he’d been rather less keen. From our conversations on the walk home I’m also not at all clear how much – if any – of the plot he’d followed. ‘It was about a boy who went to space,’ he recapped (it really wasn’t), ‘and at the end it was happy because they all went to Africa’. (I don’t think I’m spoiling things for anyone to clarify that no one travels to Africa in Alfie White: Space Explorer (though mention of Australia does feature prominently in the denouement of the play)). But maybe that doesn’t matter. As Arlo himself explained, ‘Really what I liked was the music and “Spaceship Boogie” and the dancing’. ‘I’ll show that it was the music that made all the faces happy!’ I guess you can’t do that using only stars.