How to murder a press review

As regular readers of this blog (both of you) may know, I’ve been regularly reviewing Big Finish Productions’ series of audio plays being released under the Drama Showcase marque:

The third in the series, In Conversation with an Acid Bath Murderer by Nigel Fairs, arrived on my desk this morning (if I’d been more attentive, I would have noticed that the MP3 download had been available for a few days. Oops).

I haven’t finished listening to it yet, so a full review won’t be forthcoming until some point over the next few days. But my eye was caught by a quote on the publicity material, and the back of the CD case:

“Darkly played… Nasty, creepy and disturbing” — The Stage

Wow, I thought. That sounds amazing. And in an effort to find out more, I turned to The Stage Archive. After a bit of searching, I found the full review from which the words above had been taken, which referred to a 1999 theatrical version of Fairs’ play.

However, while the words above did appear in Douglas McPherson’s review, they’re not exactly indicative of the tone of the piece.

The play, which concerns the real-life killings by John George Haigh in the 1940s, came in for some criticism over its tone:

Act I is so tame that we could be watching a cosy whodunnit…

…[Tony] Hawthorne’s delivery is more suited to swapping recipes at a vicarage garden party…

…Keith Drinkel’s portrayal of Haigh… has a surplus of twee charm but rarely much menace.

It’s not until the final paragraph that McPherson writes the words that then get pulled out for the publicity:

Darkly played in a claustrophobic fringe room at the Playhouse, Fairs’ heavy reliance on monologue might convey more chill. Classic Reaction’s slick production is safe and personable, which may prove appealing to provincial, mainstream theatre audiences. But nasty, creepy and disturbing would better evoke Haigh’s life and crimes.

So, “darkly played” and “Nasty, creepy and disturbing” are less what the play was, and more what it should be.

Although there are theatre producers who have been far more shameless in their manipulation of quotes to give the opposite impression to what was meant, I do think Big Finish have been a teensy bit naughty here.

On the upside, from what I’ve heard so far, this new audio production does seem to have attempted to tackle the shortcomings highlighted in the 1999 review. I’ll have to listen to the rest of it to make sure.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.