Children may not care about the actors name when watching theatre, but reviewers do

Want a review? Give me the basic information

In Children's theatre, Features, London theatre, Native, Opinion, Reviews by Susan ElkinLeave a Comment

This blog is a bleat. And I hope the producers and promoters of theatre for children are paying attention.

Sadly, theatre for children – other than at Christmas when it briefly moves centre stage – remains at best a fringe venture and at worst a Cinderella genre. So it needs all the publicity and attention it can get. Right?

You wouldn’t think so from the way some companies and their promoters behave. The best way to put your show on the map is to get critics in to review it. And – along with a small group of other children’s show devotees – I get to far more shows for young audiences than most. But I can’t review any sort of show without basic information about the cast and creators. Who they are, for example.

I can’t review any sort of show without basic information about the cast and creators. Who they are, for example.

Increasingly for children’s shows there is no printed programme. Presumably parents won’t pay for them on top of the ticket price. And in a school group, it would be very unusual for any child or teacher to buy one. So there’s no point in creating one.

That’s fine and logical, but it isn’t helpful when I turn up to review to be told that the information I need simply isn’t available at that moment.

“We can get it to you later,” someone usually says, if pressed. Well, first I really need to know who the cast members are during the performance as I make my notes. If I have to make do with things such as “actor in blue hat” mistakes are likely to creep in later when I write the copy. Second, it is my practice to write my review ten minutes after walking out of the theatre. (It’s called efficiency.) I find it intolerably inconvenient if I have to wait several hours until someone deigns, on request, to send me an email with the required information by which time I have probably moved on to the next job or show.

Horrible Histories - Live On Stage: Who's who?

Horrible Histories – Live On Stage: Who’s who?

A simple sheet run off a computer awaiting me at the box office would do. Or perhaps the promoter could email me the list the day before the press performance or the one I’m booked in to see? Instead I’ve too often been reduced to a whole range of tiresome strategies.

One day last week I had to email the promoter (crossly) while standing on the pavement outside the theatre. The week before on two separate occasions I tweeted cast members who happened to be following me on Twitter for names/roles of fellow actors. Often, I have quizzed ushers who sometimes know who’s who and/or collared the director if he or she happens to be around.

On one occasion for a show by a visiting company in a large Kent venue, front-of-house sent me to the stage door where the stage manager scribbled the list on a scrap of paper for me. Then there was Adventures in Wonderland earlier this year – the junior version – in the Vaults at Waterloo. They distinguished themselves by giving me the programme for the adult show, which had a different cast but the names of the characters were the same, so you can imagine what happened…

It’s not good enough, chaps. If you want me, and people like me, to help you publicise your show then you need to think – and think hard – about what a critic actually needs in order to do the job. Perhaps you could talk to the experts who understand all this. I’ve never had any problem at all at either Polka or Unicorn theatres. Some (but by no means all) of the children’s shows which play “under” adult ones during school holidays in daytime slots get it right too. There’s always a properly detailed printed programme for Horrible Histories, for instance.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a former teacher of secondary English. She has also been a very active and eclectic freelance journalist for more than 25 years. She now focuses on education, performing arts and books, and was education and training editor at The Stage newspaper 2015-2016. Susan is the author of over 40 books, mostly on education and performing arts topics, including So You Want to Work in Theatre (Nick Hern Books). In 2016, she launched her personal website susanelkin.co.uk.

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Susan Elkin on LinkedinSusan Elkin on RssSusan Elkin on Twitter
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a former teacher of secondary English. She has also been a very active and eclectic freelance journalist for more than 25 years. She now focuses on education, performing arts and books, and was education and training editor at The Stage newspaper 2015-2016. Susan is the author of over 40 books, mostly on education and performing arts topics, including So You Want to Work in Theatre (Nick Hern Books). In 2016, she launched her personal website susanelkin.co.uk.

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