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Critics need info

Let me share an, apparently unrecognised, fact of theatre life: You cannot review a show properly without the names of the creatives and cast.

Of course if it’s a big show there will be a printed programme which the PR person efficiently gives you (if it’s press night) with your ticket. If you’re attending a non press-night performance then your programme is usually waiting for you at the box office although I have sometimes – too often – had to negotiate with the Front of House manager for it.

The problem is small and/or Fringe shows which can’t afford printed programmes. Fair enough. But it would cost almost nothing to type and print off a sheet of A4 (or even half a sheet) and give it out with the tickets or at the door of the auditorium.

My critical heart sinks when I ask for this information and am told that it will be emailed to me “immediately”. It rarely is. My working habit is to write the review straightaway – often within an hour of the show coming down. I need to do it while it’s fresh in my mind and before I see anything else. Sending me the info three hours later is not good enough. And in one case this week it never arrived at all.

Both times, this week I managed to write the review properly having done time consuming Internet detective work (I’m a journalist after all) to find the names I need but I really shouldn’t have to.

Producers are very keen indeed to get reviewers in – not always easy for Fringe shows. Once they’ve persuaded someone to come they really should treat the critic with a bit of rudimentary courtesy and consideration. Like production companies, we have schedules to manage, deadlines to meet and bills to pay.

No such problems when I saw one of British Youth Music Theatre’s summer productions: Fight Like A Girl a couple of weeks ago. It was a treat to see 40 young people aged 12 to 21 being so well directed and developed in a thoughtful, topical piece by Nick Stimson and James Atherton – and I was provided with a professional, informative programme.

BYMT, currently celebrating its 15th birthday, is now based in Mountview Academy’s splendid new building at Peckham and this was my first experience of its fine, zingy theatre space. It’s obviously a happy partnership too. I was pleased to see that Mountview’s principal/artistic director, Stephen Jameson, was supportively present – even on an August evening when Mountview itself wasn’t in session. Industry links at their best.

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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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