As the 2016 cycle of our Citizens’ Reviews programme is about to draw to a close, we ask one of the participants, Jocelyn Chng, to reflect on her journey as a reviewer so far. If you’d like to apply to become a Citizens’ Reviewer in our 2017 cycle, we are currently accepting applications until 6 November – find out more about the open call and how to get involved here. And to hear from another reviewer, Neo Hai Bin, click here.
You were a contributor for The Flying Inkpot before joining Citizens’ Reviews, so you’ve been writing for a while now – how did you get into theatre reviewing?
It’s quite interesting because I actually remember the performance that got me started writing reviews – it was The Theatre Practice’s revival of Lao Jiu: the Musical in 2012. I was very riled by this production, as I remembered being quite enthralled by the earlier 2005 production (which, incidentally, I had written about in my BA thesis on musical theatre in Singapore). I had so much to say about the 2012 production that I decided to send in a review as a “guest writer” to The Flying Inkpot, without any long-term intention to become a reviewer. They accepted it, and the rest, I guess, is history!
How do you usually review?
It really depends on the performance. If there is an intermission I sometimes use that opportunity to jot down notes, or do so on the way home after a performance. There have been productions that were so engaging or thought-provoking that I feel all fired up and go home and bang out my review immediately. Others take more thought and systematic planning (much like writing an essay). I consider a piece done when I have covered the main points that I set out to cover, and have given it a few read-overs to make sure that the sentences flow and I am happy with it stylistically. I also of course have to balance what I want to say with any house guidelines of the platform to which I am submitting the review, such as word limits and any formatting guidelines.
What do you find most challenging about reviewing theatre?
In most cases there is lots to talk about, and often the context and/or structure of the production will offer enough material to shape my review and what I choose to focus on. There have been a few performances that, I have to admit, have been difficult to review, usually because the subject matter or the company’s work is too unfamiliar to me. I usually try not to accept such assignments, but sometimes it is only upon watching the performance that I realise I have little to comment on. There have also been a few rare occasions where I felt the need to self-censor because I personally know people involved in the production – I say “rare” though because I generally speak my mind and don’t feel that there is an issue as long as my comments in my review are substantiated and properly explained.
Tell us about a piece that you wrote for Citizens’ Reviews that you’re especially happy with, and why?
I think it will have to be my review of Emily the Musical, as i) musical theatre is close to my heart, and ii) I find it easier to write about why I felt a performance did not work, than a performance that I felt was effective. In the case of Emily, I also had lots to comment on due to my familiarity with the original play (similar to the case of Lao Jiu that I mentioned above).
What advice would you give to aspiring reviewers?
Watch, watch and watch performances, and keep writing – there is no shortcut. Also, find interested and critical “kakis” to attend performances with so that you can talk about it after. Sometimes talking it through with others helps to formulate your own thoughts as well.
Interview by Gwen Pew
Find out more about the Citizens’ Reviews programme here.