Reviewing children and community theatre: the issues

This is something I really struggle with. As a reviewer, or a critic, or a writer, how do you judge children on stage? Especially if the children are very young? And, even worse, what if they aren’t even ‘professional’ child actors but members of the community the director has taken a chance on?

It happened for me this week. I published a review for A Younger Theatre and quite soon after an email from the director pinged into my inbox. ‘What on earth? Is he writing to thank for the lovely write up?’ I thought. Yes, but mainly he was very kindly and graciously asking that I toned down my criticisms of the lead role. A young boy of ten on his first night – nerves got the better of him. It was his first time ever on stage. The boys and girls had all been plucked from the community youth theatre for this professional production. Had I thought through these things I certainly would have been less likely to criticise, the first time around. That doesn’t deny the fact though, that he was pitchy, bland, prim. But I did slightly amend the review, even though I prize honesty and integrity above all things in criticism. It would be awful to undermine the confidence of a little boy who I am sure will improve.

I suppose this was an unusual case. Normally child actors are thoroughly drilled by the time they end up on stage and casting directors have a huge pool to chose from. Here, the pool was a teeny tiny dipping bath of the community youth theatre.

But it’s tricky. I feel bad that the director had to email me. I feel mean. But I also felt honest when I was writing. And I don’t know what is right. Thoughts?