I am really enjoying this reviewing racket–it combines many of my favourite things: theatre, writing, and travelling around London finding brilliant new spaces I never knew existed. I’ve now done ten for One Stop Arts and in celebration I’m sharing with you my top five Essential Reviewer Kit Items. (Why five and not ten? I’m efficient. I like to travel light. And I could only think of five.)
- A hand fan. So many of these shows are in little tucked-away spaces–converted town halls, old churches, cramped rooms above pubs…they’re all unspeakably airless and as I sit dripping with sweat I frequently feel pangs of sympathy for the beleagured actors, who must be on the point of passing out. So a hand fan and preferably a cool icy drink, actually. But what I love about these recondite stages is seeing so many different kinds of places where theatre happens: theatre, real theatre, is about the people, not about the building. You can have theatre anywhere people are compelled to make it, not just in the glittering palaces of the West End (not that I am besmirching those, oh dear and lovely readers who may work in such establishments and have tickets to offer!)
- One of those pens with a light on it, all the better to distract/annoy the actors with. No, just kidding. I hardly ever take notes because I’ve realized that I invariably take notes about the things that I find most striking, which are exactly the things that I will remember the next day anyway. Useful notes would be something like what was the second character’s aunt’s name that she mentioned in the third scene where it was pivotal for a plot point but never came up again. I never think of noting those things when they happen. Plus taking notes reminds me too much of my PhD: you spend so much time trying to record salient points in a panicked fever that you will miss something dreadfully important that you end up not really feeling it, merely watching in snatches.
- Smartphone with GPS. All those tucked-away theatre spaces are great, but the advantage of the West End theatres are that they usually have great big shiny signs to help you find them. Actually my problem isn’t so much spatial as temporal. Between mixing up the show start times, not checking the transport situation, or just general lack of fleet-footedness getting out the door (or away from the pub), I can frequently be found galloping along in a fury of embarrassment trying to make it to the venue before the house lights go down. I almost always make it, emphasis on the almost.
- A thesaurus. I find myself straying back to the same words over and over again: “brilliant, dazzling, rumbustious, imperious, elegiac.” “Imbued, infused, exuded, radiated.” Wonderful words all but becoming tarnished with repetition. Trying to review without over-dependence on adjectives is a challenge. Engaging with your subject in a way that isn’t merely a list of descriptive words but rather captures the essence of the intent is not easy, which is probably why I am continually seduced by the lure of fat juicy adjectives.
- An open heart. Yeah, yeah, sentimental, mushy, shut up. But it’s true. I do this because I love theatre. I love theatre because I am astounded by the grace, power, and generosity of the people telling stories I am fortunate enough to see. Now I have more theatre in my life than ever, for which I am most beholden. As a fan, as a faithful devotee, this leaves me brimming with gratitude. It is my honor to see so much theatre and I only hope the sensibility always shows in my write-ups.