Will Theatre Criticism Change In A Post-Covid World?

The Theatre industry has been badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic since March 2020, when the country went in to lock down and all theatres had to close their doors.

Indoor performances have just been allowed to recommence, after five months of darkness. But with social distancing measures still having to be in place, the majority of venues will only be able to sell thirty percent of their tickets – making it financially impossible for them to reopen until social distancing restrictions are relaxed (which could be many more months from now).

The world has changed since the outbreak and things we considered ‘the norm’ may not necessarily return to the way they were.

We have all had time (plenty of it) to regroup and reassess our priorities – and so have businesses. Companies are becoming much leaner due to financial stresses, causing many people to lose their jobs and this goes for theatre PR and marketing companies as well. With hardly any shows to promote right now, it saddens me the amount of emails I have received from contacts to say goodbye and announce their redundancies from Arts jobs.

So where does this leave the future of theatre criticism and those reviewing shows? With reduced capacity of seating in theatres, will ‘press tickets’ not be given out so freely in future, as they are worth much more if someone buys them (although it depends on how much you consider a review is worth). Will this mean that the bigger newspaper critics will have to start to purchase their own seats – something smaller bloggers usually always have to do (for the bigger west end shows at least).

Bloggers have become more accepted within theatre reviewing over the past eight years since I started West End Wilma. I remember the email from a big West End PR company saying “we do not give press tickets to bloggers or ‘one man bands’”. However a few years later they realised the benefit of the opinions of both newspaper critics and lesser known websites and started to allow us into the fold. But in a post covid world, will bloggers to be cast out once again. Or will the reverse happen and people will decide bloggers reviews are worth more than the grumpy old men from the tabloids?

There have already been calls to abolish star ratings on reviews, with people saying we should just appreciate that theatre is happening again and be less critical of actual performances, focusing on the positives rather than the negatives. This may be easier for the bigger, national critics who often write their reviews in a way that will sell tickets, regardless of what they really thought. I remember talking to someone after a show once and they told me how boring the show was but the following day they published a four star review – making me wonder where the sudden change of mind came.

Maybe theatre criticism will become a thing of the past over the next few years. Newspapers have been cutting their Arts coverage over the last few years and so maybe now they will be abolished altogether. The bloggers on the other hand, who mostly write about shows because of a pure love for the theatre and with no financial gain, may continue to write but whether reviews begin to become more supportive rather than critical remains to be seen.