The former is reflected in the seemingly inevitable survey that follows a visit to a restaurant, cottage, hospital or theatre. Some of these surveys to which I am invited to respond ask if I am extremely/no adverb/neither-nor/no adverb on the other side/extremely are used for all sorts of purposes – promotion, publicity or plain self-aggrandisement.
The responses, like our opinions, vary from the worthy – hence the enshrined role of critics in mainstream media – to the naff – a list too long even to start scratching a beginning here.
This could be extended to include mystery reviewers. These exist, not just on TripAdvisor, but a whole host of official, semi-official and silly sites that embrace the professional, the informed amateur, even the maddened troll.
It is not usually the point of this blog to review productions. Elements of performances are inevitably going to be mentioned and assessed, but the personal pursuit of collecting productions King Lear has moved somewhat from a hobby to a lifework.
I was delighted to have been advised by a member of the Box Office staff at Chichester Festival Theatre to keep an eye out on their website after I failed to get a ticket to a production of the play, with Sir Ian McKellen as the abdicating monarch.
I did as instructed and so found myself picking up the single available seat on a Friday night in the front row of the near 300 seat theatre, just by one of the entrances. It was visceral, wet and wonderful. Sometimes all at once.
At the football I sit behind a couple of Daves whose hobby is groundhopping. For the uninitiated this involves going to football grounds with a crowd, for a game or even when they are empty. Sounds mad? Google it.
But theatregoing could likewise be seen as odd as groundhopping. I know of people who time their annual holidays so they can travel round the world to see productions of the The Ring Cycle. They feel no shame about it. Why should they?
It is personal, playful, maybe even potty. After all, I flew to Australia to see Geoffrey Rush in King Lear in my native Sydney for my sixtieth birthday. I asked nobody what they thought of that.
But Chichester did send me a survey, which I duly answered. There was, however, one query that drew me up short. It was question 3, which went ‘Thinking about King Lear please rate the following aspects of your visit (please tick one box for each statement)’. It canvassed my opinion about various aspects of the show, including what I thought of ‘the writing/quality of the script’.
I have spent some years seeking to understand and unravel my relationship with this masterpiece. Though not all would agree that, as Ian McDiarmid said when he performed in a radio version for BBC’s Radio Three, ‘Many people talk about it as the greatest play yet written’. The Guardian critic, Michael Billington, nearly always expresses reservations about it, as he did in his review of McKellen’s second thrust at the part. ‘I still find much of the play puzzling: there seems no logical reason why everyone should converge on Gloucester’s castle, or why Edgar should not reveal his identity to his father.'
I assume Billington was not sent a survey. The Chichester-generated questionnaire is obviously meant to canvass reaction to all plays, old and new, with a few changes to the lead-in to questions. Still, I could not resist saying how much I appreciated the opportunity to express my opinion on Shakespeare’s writing to see if it was Excellent/Good/Neither good nor poor/Poor/Very Poor.
I could rate my experience of Evensong in the cathedral, my meal in the bistro, the hotel I stayed in, my fry up in the only workers’ café in town, even my train trips on Southern trains.
But who cares? My opinion will hardly mar my fortunes.