The Mumble Scoring System Explained
Every Sunday I like to go to Stockbridge & buy a couple of pounds of my favorite grapes, which arrive there from Mauritius that morning. Chomping on a juicy handful last Sunday, I began making my way up through the New Town, arriving in the York Place area where the trams are. This is Stand country, & a few years ago was the epicentre of laughter in the Fringe. These days its all a bit like a weekday wake & might as well be out in Fife, for there has been a seismic shift to one Edinburgh street in particular – the sloping, cobbled thoroughfare between the Cowgate & the Bridges that is Blair Street. This is the real epicentre of Fringe comedy these days; where comedians, punters & flyerers mingle in a smiling Sunset Strip.
Things evolve, & the stranglehold The Stand had on making people pay for ‘safe’ mainstream comedy has been utterly smashed by the innovations of the Free Fringe & its quality, liberty-laden shows. All things change – I mean I’m actually writing this article on a speech-to-text app walking through Holyrood Park on the way into town. So if Fringe comedy can evolve, what about the ancient art of reviewing. Think of those ancient Greeks who first stepped down from the Dionysis theatre during the reign of Pesistratus, who had just observed the very first play there from its seats, who have been babbling opinions & critiques to each other as soon as they left the hilltop. Criticism is as old as the performance art it observes, so how does its own evolution fare in 2022?
Well, not that much really. Beyond the windows of Mumble Towers, the Fringe Press of 2022 seems an archaic institution – chained to amateur rules dished out by a hereditary feudal demense, & a narrow luddite marking system which, even if the stars are split into halves, can only ever give a ‘marks out of ten’ assessment. But half-stars are an ugly aesthetic, a deformed evolution of the species. Like Darwin says, it’s not the biggest or the fastest that survives, but the one that adapts. If the five-star marking system is not to go extinct, it must evolve from its primitive 5-point Ape, through the Homo Erectus 10-point system of halves, & into something more suitable for an increasingly sophisticated modern world.
The trained reviewer can actually feel a show’s quality as 1,2,3,4,5 within moments of the start. So what are the qualities that provide such an esoteric sensation. Since 2016, the Mumble had identified three factors in each of its genres. For Comedy, we had Material, Delivery & Laughs; while for Theatre we had Stagecraft, Script & Performance. This was an improvement on the old system, where now in essence a score was obtained between 1 and 15, the Neanderthal if you will. As the Mumble went into the 2019 Fringe, we were still using this system, but have finally recognized there was still a certain imprecision to the score.
Under our old system, to obtain four stars, for example, a show needed to score 3.66 – which is simply closer to 4 than 3. The overall marks would then be described as a low four, a natural four or a high four. The eureka moment came the other day while sitting in two comedy shows. On one occasion I was the only one laughing, while at the other show the room was in uproar & I was sat stony-gilled. It was time to add that factor into the marking mix, the Room… how does a comedian play their audience, do they keep tickling funny bones like a comedy octopus, or is each viewer sat there playing on their phones.
The Room category in Comedy has a natural cousin in Theatre. I have called it S.O.D, with the first review to use it being published in 2019. Quick off the mark, the company sent me this email;
We have asked our wonderful PR company; we have asked the amazing Pleasance Press Office; we have asked the astonishing Head of Programming at The Pleasance – no one can help.
We are delighted by our review by the excellent Daniel Donnelly, but no one seems to know what S.O.D. stands for!
Please can you elucidate?
(and I’ll get the prize for the first one home with the answer!)
The answer is, of course, Suspension of Disbelief. I know my poetry, & within Coleridge’s wonderful Biographia Literia, he elucidated on the driving phantasian spirit behind his co-creation of the Lyrical Ballads with Wordsworth. Its essence is the state of mind reached where there is, ‘a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith… awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us.’ In modern lay terms its like switching off reality & becoming immersed in the production. Is that your mate Nigel before you? Do you see them behind the make-up, or are you lost in the drama & believe this drag-queen before you is the fabulous Nigella?
The introduction of another genome into the star system, the aforetitled Expansion of the Mumbleverse, seems wholly natural. Our planet is divided into four seasons, the main elements are still earth, fire, air & water. The four bodily humors were part of Shakespearean cosmology, inherited from the ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses divided the Ages into Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. Now the reviewing star system can also be divided into four harmonious parts. Marking-wise, to obtain those 4 stars, a show must now be awarded at least 3.75 points as opposed to 3.66. The overall marking goes like this
19-20 = 5 stars
15-18 = 4 stars
11-14 = 3 stars
7-10 = 2 stars
1-6 = 1 star
As cultural surveyors, The Mumble can now give a more detailed account of a show for both artist & potential audience member – its now a case of, “you need to sort your tiles out, pal, and there’s a bit of damp in your back bedroom – you’re wirings seen better days and of course you’re gonna have to update your boiler system, it’ll never pass the new laws.“