Theatre Critics in the Spotlight

What qualifications do you need to be a theatre critic? According to the panel of tonights’ grilling at Royal Holloway

Definitely not Theatre Critic material.

(the University that is, not the prison) , you have to make absolutely certain that you’re 1) white, 2) middle-class/aged, 3) went to Oxbridge, and 4) are in the possession of at least one testicle.

Tonight’s ‘In the Spotlight’ hosted in the Studio Theatre of Royal Holloway’s drama department, proved genuinely informative, providing students and visitors the rare opportunity to talk to high profile, london based critics in an open forum where current theatrical issues could be tackled head-on. The ‘panel’ consisted of Ian Shuttleworth, Lyn Gardner, Mark Shenton, and Kate Basset (unfortunately Mr. Billington couldn’t attend for ‘personal reasons’) all key players in major national newspapers such as The Guardian, and arts papers such as The Stage.

Lyn Gardner proved herself a definitive beacon of liberal open-mindedness when it comes to embracing the new era of theatre criticism, welcoming in the blogsphere and democracy of online reviews with optimism and acceptance, in contrast to the opinons of her slightly more conservative colleagues.

It only seemed appropriate to ask Lyn, as an advocate of regional theatre, about the current managerial and financial crisis the Exeter Northcott is currently facing, when it announced it’s intent to go into administration recently…

“As some of the higher profile theatre critics in the country, do you think your inflluence could drum up more wide-spread support for struggling regional theatres so that places like the Northcott won’t have to resort to such

The Exeter Northcott.

desperate measures in the future?”

The answer I received entailed a general desire from all members of the panel to see more regional theatre. However, like many things in contemporary capitalist society, it came to an issue of money. The newspapers whom employ them, struggling to compete against the wealth of free, online information are simply not willing to invest the money to send their critics to review regional shows (with the exception of The Guardian, and in cases such as the Edinburgh Fringe). It seems a shame that such willing advocates of the theatre in all it’s forms feel constricted to remain in and review shows in London when there are just as many up and coming theatre companies from all over the country whom desperately need publicity and support.

However Lyn Gardner in particular, did re-instill in me a hope that the prevailing use of the blogsphere in accordance with influential London based critics may yet have the potential to raise greater interest and support for regional theatres, so that places like the Northcott (a theatre close to my heart) won’t have to face such uncertainty in the future.

A thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating discourse.


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