Can You Trust My Reviews as a Theatre Blogger?

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To Trust A Blogger, Or Not To Trust A Blogger...

There appears to be a growing concern over the rise in critics who are willing to put together criticism on theatre and the arts. Most notable is the rise in online content which has sprung up through the natural progression of the civilian journalist, the everyday person expressing their opinions on the internet. This tends to fall under the title of ‘bloggers’ – one that I have been labeled with for many months now.

The rise of the bloggers has been noted as the death of the newspaper, where even the top dogs of the industry have a word to say about these critics – out of fear. In the last two weeks there has been notable debate over the validation of such bloggers critically reviewing shows and giving out star ratings, something which The Scotsman was keen to state that “every show has been given a four- or five-star rating” in Edinburgh this year, mostly due to unknown reviewers casting five star critiques.

All of this leaves me somewhat down heartened and questioning the value of what I write.

I began this website in June 2009 by writing a review of the Donmar’s Hamlet starring Jude Law. I’d been a fan of writing about my personal life online as an outlet for my hormonally charged teenage years for five years, keeping a blog. I had dabbled in writing for theatre – another outlet for my creativity, however I gave all this up when initially going to drama school, and focusing on practical based theatre. Back in June last year I felt a desire to write once more, and with Twitter entering my life  fueling me with questions and a feeling of boredom of the same critics writing reviews for theatre (the white middle class men), I started A Younger Theatre.

It has been a long journey – but where am I now? Has it even been worth the past years writing?

You’ll note the slight disdain in my words. Please excuse me, but upon reading articles titled “Five stars in their eyes: can you trust unpaid theatre critics” in the Guardian yesterday, I am left deflated.

It is not that I have fallen at the hurdle of criticism – but rather being left sour at the thought that people take delight in pulling apart the sort of work (yes, I am saying work), that unpaid critics such as myself endeavor to do. I have previously questioned my role as a young critic in an article entitled ‘Does Age Matter‘, questioning if at the age of 21, I could express a just and critical response to theatre as someone who has years of experience in reviewing.

A year later, I am questioning the same again.

I posed the question on Twitter as I connect with vast number of theatre professionals who I trust would answer realistically to me.

Honest Question: Should I be writing reviews on theatre/shows? I’m not a professional critic, are my thoughts valid?

The response received shows both professional journalists/critics, bloggers, and theatre professionals:

You become a ‘professional’ critic by doing it. The Big Names all started somewhere. Of course your views are valid. (@SusanElkinJourn)

Its not all as simple as that, is it. I wasn’t being paid for anything when I started. Don’t see fee as what gives authority. (@matttruman)

Yes & yes! The views of non-critics are as important as the views of critics as most people who go to shows aren’t critics either! (@lorelei_)

If you think your opinion is worth something, then it is. You’re not forcing other people to read… (@OughtToBeClowns)

Your thoughts are no more or less valid than a ‘pro critic’. Theirs aren’t more authoritative because they get paid for it! (@RichmondTheatre)

If you don’t review now, how will you ever get to be ‘professional’ which tends to be qualified by time/longevity + experience? (@CharliePayne)

(You can read more responses by clicking here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here)

Whilst my initial question of validation of my own opinions was perhaps not quite the right phrasing I had intended the responses cover some of the issues and questions I have been asking myself.

At what point does a critic become professional? As Susan Elkin of The Stage points out you ‘become a professional critic by doing it’ – but equally numerous responses suggest that you shouldn’t ‘see fee as what gives authority’.

Whilst this might be seen as a short ego boost for myself and what I strive to do, it honestly is not. It raises fundermental questions around why I go and see so much theatre and choose to write about it. Whilst I enjoy a free ticket to shows, I attend within my own personal time, I respond to the shows in more of my own spare time. I do not get paid to write, I write because I can, but most important I write because I want to.

Can you trust what I write?

The answer is dependant upon individual opinion. The language I use is not always grammatically correct, and I certainly don’t proclaim to have a wide vocabularlly. I don’t have the depth of knowledge that Michael Billington shares in his book State of the Nation, but what I do have is passion. I love theatre. I choose to sit, watch and write about it because I love the feeling that I can write something which people (I hope) can respond to.

Blogs are wonderful at being able to start a dialogue around matters. I actively seek responses upon what I write. I even hope that people take the time to comment and to engage with others that also comment. My writing may not always be as carefully constructed as the Cambridge and Oxford bound graduates of English Literature, but by god I write from a passion that makes everyday of my life worth living. If I’m seeing a childrens puppetry show, a west-end musical, or off to a strangers flat in Hackney for the sake of theatre – I do it willingly.

Whilst I haven’t fully answered my questions, and I am certain I will return to them time and time again, it does give me hope that I write for a purpose and that it is appreciated.

I am a human, I am a blogger, and I hope someone that people can look to for honest responses to theatre without biased opinions and money driven intentions. Can you trust me? Yes, I think so.

Image by Cox & Forkum.