Someone commented to me that it was unfair to judge King Lear whilst the production is still in previews (my review: http://seaninthestalls.blogspot.com/2007/05/stratford-calling.html). This is a tricky subject, normally I would hold off on seeing a show until on or after press night, or occasionally I slip into the last preview. But with King Lear, due to Francis Barber injuring her leg, her understudy had to take on the part of Goneril. This caused the RSC to delay the press night by a significant period of time, to only 3 weeks before the show closed (it is a 12 week run). Some might say that this was a rather cynical move, as the production had already sold out on the strength of Sir Ian McKellen’s presence alone, and the critics were superfluous to the RSC’s needs (I doubt they would have delayed press night to so late in a run for a less financially assured production). The day I saw Lear was well into its scheduled run, and past the date of the original press night. So in this case, and by making allowances for the absence of Ms Barber, I felt fully justified in my less than glowing review.
As for real reviewers in the press, they have to wait until they are invited, usually to a single performance, whereas on Broadway the press is let in over a few day, or a week even, letting them experience the show on a ‘normal’ night. Currently press nights here are usually filled with backers, family, friends and assorted hangers on. I’d rather they be invited to an opening/gala night and the press be left the less glamorous occasion of sitting with the ordinary paying public a few nights before. This would benefit the critics by being with the people that they are writing for, the public, and seeing some genuine reactions for a change. But at the end of the day, much commercial theatre is critic proof, certainly the influence of the critics on commercial shows is negligible, but on more intellectual plays they can be the difference between a half full and a full house. In New York Ben Brantley of The NY Times has immense power, far more than here, and I am glad that one person’s opinion is only part of the picture over here.