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How not to alienate critics

Theatre critics have diaries bubbling with commitments. There’s some sort of press night or performance almost every day and often more than one. Clashes are surprisingly common. Getting to as many shows as possible is a juggling act.

Most theatres, producers and companies –  and the PR companies the larger ones often outsource press liaison to –  understand this very well. So they do their utmost to accommodate reviewers as flexibly as possible. They need to get critics at their shows. They want reviews.

Except one: Cambridge Arts Theatre which has an extraordinarily rigid, dismissive way of working and presumably doesn’t want professional critics – prepared to put themselves out and travel – to review shows there.

This week Cambridge Operatic Society is staging My Fair Lady at the Arts. CaOS is a community company whose shows I have, for many years, regularly reviewed in Sardines Magazine, for which I do a lot of work. Sardines specialises in amateur theatre although it also runs many reviews of professional shows.

Anyway I can’t – usual diary problem – get to press night on Wednesday so I offered to cover the Thursday matinee. Oh no, no no. The Arts – and in this case you have to deal with the venue rather than the production company – cannot countenance giving press comps to a professional London critic writing for a nationally respected publication other than on press night. I pleaded and I made a case. To no avail. So I’m not going and there will be no review.

I simply do not understand this blinkered attitude. Thank goodness it’s unusual. On the same day that I was having this little spat with the Arts I received two invitations to review shows: one from Susan Jamson at Chickenshed and the other from David Burns, a freelance PR who’s looking after My Dad’s Gap Year starring Michelle Collins at Park Theatre.

It’s worth quoting them in full. Jamson wrote: “Please find details of our new production – monolog 2 which opens on Tuesday 12 February. Our press night will be on Tuesday 19 February, when we will be performing all seven of our monologues.  We would love you to join us if you are free on that day – however, if this date is not convenient, please let me know and I will arrange tickets on a more suitable evening.”

Burns’s email said: Do let me know if you’d like to book in for press night on Feb 1 or any subsequent performance.

Thank goodness for reasonableness and people who know first, how to do their job well and second, how to get the best out of those they work with rather than alienating them. I shall, of course, review both shows. Perhaps Jamson and Burns (and/or many others like them) could run a few training sessions for those with lessons to learn.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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