BLOG: Should critics be given free press tickets to review shows?

I sat down and wrote the following blog this morning and then, as sometimes happens, decided not to publish it. I felt it could lead to giving the wrong impression and end up sounding like I was having a bit of a moan when I have no right to. However, having seen an article online today where writer Anthony Horowitz suggested theatre critics should not be given free tickets to review shows, I decided that actually this is a relevant piece to what is being discussed today…..


Re-igniting my love of Theatre

Like in any job, there are office politics that you have to deal with and the theatre industry is no exception.

I’ve just spent a week up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which was a lot of fun and for the first time in years the weather was kind and I didn’t end up soaked through at any point. In previous years, I have meticulously planned what shows to see and booked press tickets in advance so I had a schedule of maybe 6-8 shows planned, per day.  This doesn’t usually leave much time between shows and I find myself running around from show to show and trying to write reviews as I go.

This year, after devising my hardcore schedule, I had a change of heart and decided that this year, I was going to throw caution to the wind and only book and handful of shows in advance that I really wanted to make sure I saw (two of which I actually missed and one I wish I had). The rest of it, I would just play by ear and see where the festival took me.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the press office will (on most occasions) allocate one ticket per reviewer. This is absolutely fine but if you are at the fringe with someone else, you end up having to buy a ticket for them anyway and many times there are 241 ticket deals available, especially towards the beginning of the fringe. So this year I just decided to pay for the shows I wanted to see, which gave me no added pressure of having to write a review for everything. There were a couple of shows where I did end up getting freebies for because they were either sold out or they specifically asked me to review the show (and because I had free time I could) but for the most part, I forked out the few pounds most shows charge and had a non pressurised week.

Spending the week working this way really made me remember what it was like when I first started blogging five and a half years ago. If I wanted to see a show, I bought a ticket and went along. If I wanted to write a review about it, then I did. There was no pressure, no embargos, no deadlines and no competition between bloggers as to who was given press tickets to review and who wasn’t. I was just doing what I originally set out to do which is write about my love of theatre.

Over the years and as has grown and developed, I have found myself suddenly bounds by rules and regulations. If you want to be given a free ticket to review a show, you have to play by certain rules. And if you want to interview someone in a big west end show, you have to go through the correct process to do so. Gone are the days when I would just send a tweet to someone and say “do you fancy doing an interview with me?”. That was much easier and they were usually grateful for the exposure but these days you have to go through official channels most of the time which can be very limiting.

So, this ties in with what Anthony Horowitz has been quoted as saying today. Should critics be given free tickets to review shows? Well, I guess that depends what the production is looking to get out of it. Do they want people to spread word about the show by writing about it online? A free ticket is certainly cheaper than paying for advertising but I suppose if you don’t have faith that you are putting on a great show then you might prefer to pay the extra and not have reviews written.

But PR companies have strategies in place to make sure a show gets the necessary coverage and by the people most suited to that show. If they stop giving out press tickets, the industry becomes a free-for-all with no boundaries, which would see many of the press attending the first preview performance, buying a cheap ticket in the balcony where they can’t necessarily judge the performance accurately and fighting to publish the first review of a show that may still be being tweaked (as so often happens with preview performances). It’s a double-edged sword really so be careful what you wish for as if free press tickets become obsolete, it will be a game changer for this industry.