Imagining the likes of Michael Billington, Lyn Gardener or Mark Shenton settling down to a musical aimed predominantly at teeny bopping rock-musical loving students leaves me bemused and wondering if the people we all turn to for opinions on new productions are really an accurate slice of today’s theatregoing demographic.
Now, before you start yelling like I’ve compared people’s castability to the number of Twitter followers they have (ahem), I am NOT saying that these reviewers are no good, tweed-wearing oldies with no knowledge of today’s theatre scene. I respect them and what they do. I am also not saying that productions should just invite reviewers that are going to love the show – that, of course, would be pointless. But what we do need is a well-rounded spectrum of opinions, backgrounds, ages and sexual persuasions… OK, maybe not the last one, but sending a 60 year-old reviewer who hates pop music, has never heard of Busted and prefers a night at the opera to Rock of Ages to review Loserville seems a little pointless, don’t you think?
The reviewer I just brilliantly described may love the Busted boys and secretly crave the catchy riff of a Fender guitar or a cheesy love story fresh from an episode of Dawson’s Creek, but should we not also be urging young people to flex their writing muscles, express their opinions and start thinking about why they like or dislike a production? After all, the world and the industry we work in is changing fast and so is the way theatre works and evolves.Your average theatre goer is also changing, therefore changing the ways in which these shows aim to please.
Newspapers such as The Independent, The Daily Mail and The Stage need to start introducing fresh blood to their reviewing departments, have a variation of people they can send out to the theatre and not have the same three opinions circulating to so many productions of varying styles.
Not only is it about the style of the show but the style of writing. If we want young people to be interested in theatre, we want them to read about it. As Simon Cowell has taught us, today’s audiences want the truth (unless it’s from Louis Walsh), they want it in language they can relate to and they want to be entertained. They do not want to have to use a thesaurus just to understand whether Lloyd Webber’s latest offering is worth the £72.50 ticket or not. I think we all know the answer to that one though, don’t we kids?
The presence of online reviewers has rocketed over the last 10 years allowing normal people (myself excepted) to express their views on personal sites or on public forums. The Public Reviews is one of those leading websites using members of the public to review a huge range of productions rather than relying on one or two reviewers to do the rounds of regional and West End productions. This way we get a full, rounded opinion with different writing styles and points of view.
Listen up, tabloids and leading theatre based media: expand your wings, introduce new talent and keep it fresh. Then maybe we can get a more accurate picture of today’s theatre offerings. Failing that, if we all made an effort to tweet our thoughts whilst queuing for our interval ice creams, reviewers might become a thing of the past, packed up and locked away for ever never to see the light of day again.
If anyone happens to find Ben Elton’s writing pad, throw that in there too!