How much do we care about what will happen? Primarily a product of the dawn of the internet, “spoilers” have become a dreaded fear for fans of films, TV shows and books when they scroll through social media. I, too, have been outraged in the past by having a dramatic ending snatched away from me before I could properly enjoy it. But as reviewers and critics alike (yes, my good friends, there is a difference) become more cautious in what they give away, and as social media revels in this new-found power it has to ruin someone else’s experience of the hottest new series or film, what does this mean for theatre, one of the oldest, if not the original, form of criticism in the arts?
The topic came up between me and another critic during a mentoring session. We had both gone to see Enda Walsh’s “Ballyturk”; an absurdist play questioning the point in our existence, which recently concluded its run at the Tron Theatre. A key difference between our reviews (and, I found, between mine and most of the reviews that appeared in the major publications) was that I specifically avoided giving details about Wendy Seager’s character, a kind of Godot/God/Grim Reaper figure in a sharp suit and an aura of wisdom and confidence.
It should also be mentioned that the reveal of her character was something to marvel at – the ripped, damp wall breaks in three and we see her standing amongst on in a starry garden before casually wandering and asking for a cup of tea. I was blow away by this, and figured that should anyone read my review and decide to see it they would gain far more by not knowing about this detail than if I gave it away.
My companion did not feel the same way however, suggesting that audience’s don’t go to shows to find out what happens in the same way as films, and that they did not read reviews just to find out whether or not they should see the show, pointing to the internet as the source for this idea that everything must be kept schtum until the very end. As may be obvious, I as a writer am very much a product of that online culture. I first became interested in reviewing through watching film reviews on YouTube, and naturally assumed that the same policy on spoilers applied to theatre. (Note that I even waited for the show to finish its run before writing this.)
Surely, then, there is a balance to be found, and an audience to consider. If one has an audience who expects a detailed analysis over a simple recommendation they won’t care, those who have a interest in attending may do. Then too there is the matter of what kind of play it actually is. A writer won’t lose any readers for discussing the suicide scene in “Romeo and Juliette”, but may do for giving away the ending of a lesser-known play like “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”.
My suspicion is that, as a new generation start to emerge into the criticism scene, we’ll start to see far fewer endings given away. The question of whether this will help or hinder the discussion remains to be seen, but as for myself I shall never truly shake the instinct to keep a show’s secrets, and let the reader experience them for themselves.