What qualifies someone to write about theatre?

Earlier today, an article was published by The Stage in which producer Danielle Tarento was quoted as saying of theatre bloggers, “This is a massive generalisation, but a lot of people are not ‘proper writers’. They do not have the intellectual background or historical background or time to know what they are writing about.”

And then Twitter exploded.

My natural instinct is always to give people the benefit of the doubt in cases like this, ever since I was 18 and the local paper quoted me as saying my A-Levels had been easy (definitely not what I said) – so I naturally assumed the quote had been taken out of context. And there’s a good chance it was, particularly since in the same breath Danielle Tarento acknowledges the massive role bloggers play in spreading the word to a wider audience.

But that hasn’t stopped people getting upset about it, and the fact that the article was published at all seems like as good a reason as any to pause and ask: what qualifies someone to write about theatre?

I don’t come from a writing background, as evidenced by the noticeable absence of the novel I’ve been trying to write for years. I don’t come from a performance background either, unless you count a few appearances in school nativity plays and a brief spell in a drama group which I’m pretty sure only ever managed one production (I can’t remember what it was; all I know is we all said, “He’s not there!” a lot, and I was supposed to have a German accent). This worries me, because in addition to all the professional critics out there, it often feels like most other theatre bloggers are either students or practitioners of theatre. This, in my head, means they must know a lot more about the subject than I do, so I’m at a double disadvantage before I’ve even started.

I fell into theatre blogging totally by accident – it began as an occasional topic on a blog about stuff that makes me happy, and grew from there. Next thing I knew, I was reviewing regularly for three other sites, and eventually decided it was about time I started a specialist theatre blog of my own. And here we are.

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150(ish) reviews later, here are a few things I know:

– Like most theatre bloggers, I’ve been going to the theatre my whole life, which means I have 30 years of experience as an audience member. True, I’ve only been reviewing for just over a year, and I’m too scared to look back at some of my early reviews because I’m sure they were very, very bad. But the only way to improve is to keep trying, and I like to think I’ve got at least a bit better over the past 12 months.

– Like most theatre bloggers, I have a full-time job to pay the bills. So I don’t have a lot of free time to work on reviews… but I make time. I stay up late, I use my lunch break and my commute, and the other day I sat in a restaurant with my family and ignored them all for a good five or ten minutes while I finished up a review – which I later rewrote because I hated the thought that I’d rushed it and not done a good job.

– Like most theatre bloggers, I don’t review because someone’s paying me. I do it because I want to; because I want to support theatre and share something I love with others. (Although if anyone wants to pay me, that’s totally okay. Just putting it out there.)

– Like most theatre bloggers, I sometimes worry my reviews aren’t intellectual enough, or that I’m somehow “doing it wrong”. But then I remember I’m not writing an academic essay; I’m writing for people like me, who enjoy a good show and might want to go and see something they may otherwise not have heard about. And it’s my blog, so as long as the review is honest and accurate, I can’t really mess it up.

So, what qualifies someone to write about theatre? Personally, I think passion, dedication and having an opinion are worth a lot more than using big words or having every comma in the right place (which is saying something, because I really care about correct punctuation). And if today is anything to go by, the theatre blogging community is overflowing with all these things.

The battle between bloggers and critics is, apparently, an endless one. It raises its head regularly, usually on Twitter, and everyone gets outraged every time. It is unfair to make the sweeping statement that bloggers aren’t proper writers, especially since some of us only plucked up the courage to start applying that label to ourselves very recently. But actions speak louder than words (or should that be words speak louder than tweets…? I don’t know), so let’s put our energy into proving our worth, by blogging on with pride, improving and learning as we go, and giving it 100% like we always do.

Theatre round-up: 18 Aug 2015

These posts are gradually getting later and later in the week… I’ll try and get back on track for next week, but in the meantime here’s the round-up of the last hectic few days.

Blood Wedding

I was interested to see this adaptation of the classic Spanish play, having studied the text at A-Level (and then again at uni) but never seen it performed. The enjoyable production by Dreamcatcher Theatre at the Bread and Roses has all the drama and tragedy that I remember; it’s the tale of a doomed wedding, and its characters really don’t stand a chance from the start. The play was first performed in the 1930s and contains some pretty old school views on various issues, particularly gender roles, but it’s also strangely relevant at times to the world we live in today.

Blood Wedding review for LondonTheatre1

The Backward Fall

Part of the Camden Fringe, this play about two sisters packing up their childhood home after the loss of their mother to Alzheimer’s packs quite an emotional punch. The strained relationship between the sisters is convincing and well portrayed, and the play makes a powerful point about the ongoing impact of this life-changing condition, not just for the sufferer but for those around them as well. The Backward Fall, by Penny Productions, is based on stories, research and interviews with real people affected by Alzheimer’s, which only increases its power for the audience.

The Backward Fall review for LondonTheatre1


So much brilliance I don’t know where to start. Consolation, by Théâtre Volière, is funny, devastating and educational all at once. The unlikely friendship of a middle-aged woman who thinks she was a Cathar heretic in a former life, and a young re-enactor from the local visitors centre takes us on an emotional journey that spans several hundred years, and ends with a totally unexpected but brilliant twist. The cast are incredible and the set is simple yet ingenious. There are a couple of plot details I missed, but I’d happily head back to the Bridewell Theatre and do it all again (all three hours) to make sense of them – which just goes to show how good this play is.

Consolation review for LondonTheatre1

The Two Gentlemen of Verona / Hay Fever

Kent-based Changeling Theatre never disappoint; this year we enjoyed a double bill of Shakespeare and Noël Coward at the lovely Boughton Monchelsea Place. Changeling interpretations, directed by Rob Forknall, are always mischievous and full of humour, with a brilliant and adaptable cast who seem to be having the time of their lives. And a ridiculously cute dog, who got the biggest cheers of the day without actually doing anything.

Changeling review

Spirit of the dance

A spectacular show, featuring the Irish dancing made famous by the better-known Riverdance, but also including other dance styles too – flamenco, tap, ballet, and even a bit of the Highland Fling – Spirit of the Dance is colourful, energetic and entertaining. Besides the cast of eighteen dancers, this show at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford also welcomed special guests the Three Irish Tenors, who – while slightly detached from the rest of the show – get the audience singing along to a few crowd-pleasing classics while the dancers have a well-earned break.

Spirit of the Dance review for Dartford Living

This week's theatre

Next week’s theatre

Twelfth Night (Oddsocks) – Castle Cornet, Guernsey

Theatre round-up: 3 August 2015

Bit later than usual, but here’s this week’s theatre round-up, and what an interesting week it was. It also included another Edinburgh preview, so more on that next week.


Escapology, mind-reading, card tricks and sleight of hand. Women get cut in half and cars disappear. Members of the audience are invited to lie on a bed of nails, and a bald man fires a crossbow at his wife. It’s all in a day’s work for the eight illusionists who make up the cast of Impossible, a magical extravaganza directed by BAFTA winner Anthony Owen at the Noel Coward Theatre. It’s full of jaw-dropping moments – I figured out one tiny bit of one trick and I was really proud of myself. As for the rest, I’ve no idea.

Sure, it’s all a bit macho, and it would have been nice to see a man get cut in half for a change. And we know how all the tricks are going to end, but that doesn’t stop them being amazing. This is a genuinely incredible show and really good fun (and only mildly terrifying at times).

Impossible review for LondonTheatre1.com

American idiot

Ah, finally a jukebox musical based on a band from my generation… American Idiot is a show based on the 2004 Green Day concept album, and telling the story of three childhood friends in the wake of 9/11. It’s not for the faint-hearted or easily offended, with scenes of drug use, violence and explicit language, but then again, was anyone really expecting anything different? It’s not your typical jukebox musical, but personally, I’m not a massive fan of them anyway, so that’s okay. The show is fast, furious and full of energy, and I loved it.

And it’s got me back listening to Green Day again, so that can’t be a bad thing.

American Idiot review for LondonTheatre1.com

Secret theatre

Well, what can I say? Not much, actually, because it’s a secret. It’s not like me to go and see a play without knowing what it is, so I was feeling a bit anxious about my trip to the Secret Theatre last night. But I needn’t have worried, because not only did the play turn out to be a story I knew and loved, it was also really fun. A totally immersive theatre experience, from the moment you arrive you’re part of the show; be prepared to interact with the cast, and to do a lot of walking from location to location.

Though the second act could probably have done with being a bit shorter, I loved both the experience and the play, and might even consider trying secret theatre again some time. Which, considering I don’t do surprises, is quite a compliment.

Secret Theatre review for Carn’s Theatre Passion

This week's theatre

This week’s theatre:

Dirty Dancing, Marlowe Theatre

Theatre round-up: 19 July 2015

Just the two trips this week…

Shakespeare’s R&J

A unique take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which four students at a strict boys’ boarding school read extracts from the play to each other after class. What starts out as a bit of fun soon turns more serious as story and real life merge, and the boys are forced to confront their feelings of love, jealousy and friendship. The result is funny, moving and at times violent, and though the words may be familiar, this is unlike any adaptation of Romeo and Juliet I’ve ever seen.

The play itself, by Joe Calarco, was written almost twenty years ago, and has been performed all over the world, including the West End. This production by the Chapel Lane Theatre Company features an impressive young cast, and will be at the Tabard Theatre until 8th August.

Shakespeare’s R&J review for LondonTheatre1.com

The Gathered Leaves

A family drama written by Andrew Keatley and directed by Antony Eden, The Gathered Leaves explores the complex relationships between three generations of the Pennington family. For the first time in seventeen years, the whole family are all together for the long Easter weekend, trying to put the past behind them in the face of an uncertain future.

An excellent cast is led by Jane Asher and Clive Francis as William and Olivia Pennington, along with Asher’s real-life daughter Katie Scarfe, and father-son duo Alexander and Tom Hanson. But for me, the star of the show is Nick Sampson, who’s delightful as the Penningtons’ autistic son, Samuel. The Gathered Leaves is a story of one family on the brink of significant change, but is also a more general reflection on what family really means. It’s on at Park Theatre until 15th August.

The Gathered Leaves review for LondonTheatre1.com

The Gathered Leaves and Shakespeare's R&J

Next week’s theatre

A Land Without People (Palindrome Productions), The Courtyard

To She Or Not To She (Joue le Genre), Morley College


A brief guide to life as a theatre blogger

I’m relatively new to the world of theatre blogging. About eight months ago, I spotted a tweet from London Theatre Direct looking for people to join their blogging team, and thought I’d give it a try. When they said yes, it’s fair to say I was more than excited – not least because they were the first people to ever publish something I’d written.

My first post for LTD was a rant about bad behaviour in the theatre (talking, eating, using phones and the like), which is something I still get very worked up about, and will no doubt have a rant about on here before too long. And since that first post, life’s changed a bit; I now regularly review for London Theatre 1 as well as LTD, and I’m on the press list for a couple of local theatres. I’ll also usually write a review of anything I’ve actually paid to see – because there’s still plenty of those shows as well. It’s been a great few months, and I’m loving it, even if I’m not completely sure what I used to do with my time before.

If you’re thinking of becoming a theatre blogger, here are a few tips.

A brief guide to life as a theatre

Be prepared to see a lot of shows

From making a resolution at the start of the year to get to at least one show a month, I’m now seeing on average 2 or 3 plays a week. I’ve discovered some great new theatres across London that I never knew existed, and seen several fantastic West End shows. My colleagues have stopped asking what I’m doing after work, and now just go straight to the more obvious question, ‘Which show is it tonight, then…?’ Be prepared also to see things you wouldn’t usually go to – I’ve found a few gems that way.

Get ready to network

I’m not very good at this, because I’m horrible at walking into a room full of people I don’t know and making conversation. But fortunately there are ways around that. I now spend a lot more time on Twitter than I used to, following actors, directors, playwrights, theatres and companies and occasionally saying hello if I’m feeling brave. I’ve made friends with other theatre bloggers too, and have even written a guest review for one of them (the very lovely Caroline at Carn’s Theatre Passion). All of which means when I finally meet them in person, we already sort of know each other. And even if I do have to meet complete strangers, at least I know we all have a love of theatre in common, which is a pretty safe place to start.

Don’t expect to sleep much

Because it generally takes me at least an hour to get home from a London performance, on a theatre night I’ll invariably be up till 1am or later, writing up my review while it’s fresh in my mind. I choose not to take notes during the play, so I usually spend the train journey home jotting down thoughts on my phone, before starting the review proper on the computer when I get in. The latest I’ve ever been up working was 4am, but that was a one-off. (And it was a Friday, so at least I could sleep in the next morning.) Generally a review will take me a couple of hours; sometimes a bit less if it flows easily.

Get familiar with star ratings

Not everyone uses star ratings; personally I don’t when I’m writing reviews for my own blog, but some of the sites I write for do, and it can be difficult to decide what to award. My instinct initially was to give pretty much everything five, because if I gave it any less, I felt a need to justify my decision by finding something wrong with the play. (Four somehow seems a lot less than five.) But since I learned that five stars means basically the best production of its kind ever made, I try to use them a little more sparingly – unless I genuinely think it was brilliant. Which I often do, because I’m far too nice.

Get organised

I used to keep most of my diary in my head, and – a few minor double booking disasters aside – it worked pretty well. These days, I can’t do that, because I have so many plays booked in that it would just be asking for trouble. As soon as something’s confirmed, it goes in the diary on my phone, and then when I get home it goes on the calendar so I’ve got a back up. And it’s not just about dates; with theatres dotted all over London, it’s important to be familiar with the location beforehand, so as not to run in gasping for breath at the last minute – or, even worse, arrive late (especially if you’re representing another company).

Prepare to drink

Many theatres either have a reception at the interval of a press night show, where you’ll be plied with drinks and snacks, or they’ll thrust a drinks voucher into your hand when you collect your tickets. Either way, lately I’ve been finding myself drinking a lot more wine than I used to. Not that I’m complaining, but I just thought it was worth mentioning.

So there we have it: a brief guide to life as a theatre blogger. It’s a lot of fun, and I’d recommend it to anyone. You don’t need any qualifications, just a love for theatre and the ability to write about it. And we’re a friendly bunch, so why not join in the fun?

If anyone has any more tips to add, please share them in the comments 🙂