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Choosing from reviews
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Choosing from reviews
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Reading a newspaperThe best way - and certainly the easiest way - to choose a show at the Festival is by letting someone else do it for you. And there's plenty of help on hand: during August Edinburgh attracts a noisy travelling circus of reviewers, who spend endless days locked in claustrophobic venues, producing millions of words on tons of newsprint covering all that the Festival has to offer.

Many are professional critics, who genuinely have seen it all before; none is shy about coming forward with an opinion, and a surprising proportion of their pronouncements are available for free online. The difficulty lies in piecing it all together... but a few straightforward techniques will help you sift through the mound of verbiage, and get straight to what you want to know.

 Reviews come into their own when choosing shows at the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe - which of course, make up the bulk of most Festival-goers' calendars. They're also good for exhibitions at the Art Festival. But they're about as useful as a chocolate teapot for the Book Festival, where virtually all events are one-offs, and the Jazz and Blues Festival is over so quickly that not many reviews are out in time.  For those two Festivals, programmes are your best bet. 

How to read a review

Almost all reviews have, splashed at the very top, some kind of out-of-five rating - whether it be measured in stars, ticks, thumbs-up signs or comedy moustaches (the trademark gimmick of online reviewer Chortle). Be careful, though. Not all stars are equal - getting a top mark from The Guardian is particularly hard, while the Edinburgh Evening News, say, is fairly generous - and in any case, it's best not to take such a crude measurement too seriously.

Invariably, though, a show which gets a bunch of one-star reviews really is a turkey. Trust us on this one - however much you liked the sound of it, if it's consistently picking up one star, let it go. Even if a show's managed two stars, it's probably best to steer clear unless you are the performer's mother or stand to win a bet by attending. Above that level, you might be in business - and that's where the rest of the review comes in.

Reviewers, just the same as you, have pet likes and dislikes; their three-star might be your unmissable spectacular, while their five-star may strike you as simply dull. A proper in-depth review, however, will always explain what the reviewer liked (or disliked) and why they felt that way. So if they loved the extended improvised ballet scene, but you know that all dance bores you to tears... no number of stars is going to make the show right for you.

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