Despite the sometimes glorious polyphony of the internet, there are times when conversations about the theatre can feel stubbornly London-centric – with the occasional token wave made at a few high profile productions outside the city perimeter.
The proliferation of theatre blogs and digital publications never quite – and still hasn’t – countered that metro-centricity in the way that it could. With a few exceptions – central Scotland’s View From The Stalls and Peter Kirwan’s Bardathon among them – most of these outlets focus on the same productions, the same territory, that is being covered in depth elsewhere, adding to and refining existing debates rather than broadening the critical landscape.
The Stage, of course, covers the vast majority of major openings around the country and some critics – notably the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner – travel widely and regularly but as Paula Rabbitt, Head of Press at West Yorkshire Playhouse, attests: “we are aware that budgets are getting tighter for newspapers and that sending people out and about is getting harder. It probably means that regional theatres have to be a bit more joined up in their thinking.”
Regional productions “can sometimes miss out on in comparison to London openings in that sudden ‘boom’ of reviews being published over one or two days,” though she points out that the WYP is better served than others by regional reviewers, with Alfred Hickling for the Guardian, Clare Brennan for the Observer and Jonathan Brown for the Independent all Yorkshire-based as well a strong base of local reviewers.
With print coverage being eroded, there’s a chance to re-examine the model that puts London so firmly in the middle of things
For their current production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Jamie Parker as Brick, they’re trying something new, joining forces with The Guardian for an experiment in ‘open journalism’, soliciting audience reviews throughout the run via a variety of methods in an attempt to widen the conversation about the production. It could be argued that Twitter and other forms of social media already do this kind of thing fairly well already, but it will be an interesting project to follow.
While the West Yorkshire Playhouse can usually rely on the majority of its productions being covered by a broad range of outlets, national and local, digital and print, this is of course far from being the case for many venues outside London, and as a result exciting work often slides under the radar. The shifts in the regional theatre landscape are worthy of wider documentation, and the internet should – and can – allow for a greater sense of connectedness. But there are times when it feels like this potential is not being tapped as fully as it might be.
With print coverage being eroded, again not in The Stage but elsewhere, there’s a chance to re-examine the model that puts London so firmly in the middle of things, to turn our gazes outward.