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Spice of Life

I think variety is the best thing about my life and work. In the last two weeks I’ve seen a children’s show at Chichester, amateur takes on Our Country’s Good and Follies, three youth theatre shows (one of them in Cambridge and two by National Youth Theatre 2018 Rep Company)  one straight play, one for under 5s and a musical at Jermyn Street.

In the forthcoming week I shall be at Canterbury for Glyndebourne’s La Traviata and back at Chichester for The Watsons. Then there’s a local amateur staging of O What a Lovely War and I shall be off to Half Moon Theatre (two Saturdays running!) for Off The Grid at the end of the week.

The work takes me from big venues such as Chichester Festival Theatre, Marlowe Theatre Canterbury and the Olivier to niche spaces like Park Theatre or Jermyn Street and often pub theatres – dozens of them, of course, all over London.

And often – as a reviewer on press tickets –  I see shows I wouldn’t have dreamed of buying tickets for so there’s an element of personal learning curve as I see more and more work which is – maybe – outside my usual comfort zone. I was bowled over, for example, by Six at Arts Theatre after its doing so well in Edinburgh and I recommended it to lots of other people. I’m so glad it’s coming back in the new year. But my point is that I’m really not into hip hop and would never have imagined how much I’d like this show.

Sometimes it works the other way. I see something that I’ve dutifully trotted open-mindedly along to and loathe it. I sit there thinking how glad I am that I’m not actually paying for this experience – and please can I go home soon?  That was how I felt, I’m afraid at National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s Victoria’s Knickers last week although the cast are very talented.

Another thing I really enjoy and value about reviewing is that – and it’s a deliberate choice – I see shows by different sorts of company not all of them professional or commercial. It’s always a pleasure to see what Cambridge Theatre Company does with its local youth casts for example (Peter Pan next month) and I get a lot of pleasure from the work of  adult non-pro companies too. Sedos’s Our Country’s Good at the Bridewell  last month for instance was one of the best amateur straight plays I have ever seen. And I’m happy to support local (to me) south London companies such as West Wickham Operatic Society and ArtForm in their endeavours. Of course I shall like some shows better than others – and say so – but that’s simply how it works.

It’s also good to have the opportunity, sometimes, to talk professionally, to the people involved in these shows. This week, for instance, I interviewd Moira Buffini who has adapted Macbeth (50/50 gender casting) for National Youth Theatre Rep Company which I shall see at the end of this month.

If only I could accept more invitations. But I have other work – features and so on – as well as reviewing. Four or five shows a week is usually about the limit of what I can manage. Except in December of course when life enters a manic phase. Sometimes, for a couple of  crazy weeks, I find myself seeing two or three in a day. Have notebook. Will travel.

The Midnight Gang. Chichester Festival Theatre. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

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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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