What Chrisontheatre is

To accompany my list of all the things that this blog is not, here’s a quick run-down of what this blog does. With caveats.

Chrisontheatre is a review site for north-east theatre

The original purpose of this site is, of course, reviews of local plays. And I still write a lot of reviews, even though the scope of this blog has since expanded beyond this. Unlike some review sites, my intention is to actively seek out plays that are good, especially plays that aren’t already getting attention from other publications. So I generally restrict reviews to productions that are good, or at least show some promise. If I didn’t like it (or if I thought it was okay but didn’t stand out from the crowd) I generally won’t write a review at all. Private feedback is always available to anyone who knows I saw their play.

I’m only one person, and I cannot review everything. It’s better to think of this blog as a cross-section of the plays out there, rather than a comprehensive pick of theatre in the north-east. As with many reviewers, what I cover is heavily influenced by my personal tastes and what grabs my interest. I pay for most of my own tickets, so I rarely review plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal and Sunderland Empire. If you want me to review more of your plays, you are welcome to invite me to review you, but that’s up to you. But my interest will always be primarily with the up-and-coming little guys.

By “north-east”, I mean all the north-east, not just Newcastle. I also make occasional forays into Yorkshire, particularly for the Yorkshire-based groups I like (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Northern Broadsides and John Godber). And I write the odd review about things I saw in London whenever I happen to be down there. But most of the time, it’s the north-east.

Chrisontheatre is a review site for festival fringes

I’m busiest of all, however, when I’m at festival fringes. I go to the Edinburgh, Brighton and Buxton fringes every year, and write about the good and promising plays I see. Like my reviews of north-east theatre, I aim to pick out good plays, and especially pick out good plays that are yet to be discovered by the great and good. So, again, bad plays (and okay but indistinct plays) usually don’t get reviewed at all, with the occasional kicking reserved for highly-trumpeted productions that should know better.

As with local plays, it’s better to think of this as a cross-section of plays at the fringes than a list of the best plays. I’m only at each fringe for a few days, and even if I had the time and money to stay for the entire festival, I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of covering everything. The plays I cover will be primarily plays that grab my interest – some on recommendation, some from groups I’ve seen before – but there’ll be a few lucky dips thrown in.

Unlike local theatre, I’ve discovered that what independent theatre blogs says at festival fringes does matter. There aren’t enough reviewers in fringe publications to go round, so fringe performers do turn to online blogs as the next best way of getting noticed. I occasionally get invited to review Edinburgh Fringe plays, and you are welcome to do the same. I can’t guarantee it will always be available to everyone who asks, but so far, I’m always been able to accept. And sometimes it pays off.

Chrisontheatre is a list of recommendations for upcoming plays

The trouble with reviews is that they have a very limited useful life for punters. With the exception of a few long-running touring plays, by the time most people have read my review it’s too late. The play has already come and gone. So as well as reviews, I do regular What’s Worth Watching pieces, listing the plays I’ve noticed coming up that I can recommend. I typically write six per year: one for each of the Brighton, Buxton and Edinburgh Fringes, and another three covering the north-east season-by-season. Most recommendations will be on the strength of previous productions of the same artists (or, better still, me having seen this play before), but just occasionally I will recommend plays based on repeated recommendations from other people, or very occasionally play descriptions I can’t resist promoting. I tend to divide recommendations into “safe choice”, which are plays that I’ve confident you’ll like if you liked the description, and “bold choice”, where I’m less certain what they’ll produce but it could turn out to be something great.

Like reviews, it’s not a comprehensive list of recommendations north-east theatre or the festival fringes. I cannot possibly know about everything going on, and I’m sure there are are many absolute gems that pass me by. I advise you treat this as an addition to the recommendations of the big publications, not a replacement. Plenty of publications will let you know what big names are coming to the north-east, what fringe acts have a set of five-star reviews under their belts – I’m here to show what they may have missed.

One other thing: like reviews, you’ll find very few recommendations of Theatre Royal and Empire plays. That’s not because I don’t like the plays there, more that they get more than enough coverage elsewhere. On the rare occasions I recommend something, it will be because it’s something I can pick out amongst all the other highly-trumpeted plays on offer.

Chrisontheatre is where you’ll find tips for punters and performers

Occasionally, I write tips for punters. This is mainly written for anyone going to the Edinburgh, Brighton or Buxton Fringes who doesn’t know what do expect. If you’ve never been to a fringe before – or even if you’ve been to one fringe but not another – it’s easy to make mistakes that stop you making the most of it. Whether it’s how to spot the best shows to see, how to spot the next big thing, enjoying yourself between shows, or simply practicalities over finding somewhere to stay, I write things that I wish I’d known when I was a newbie.

I also write tips for other performers. This might be a bit more controversial. There are plenty of books you can buy about playwriting, and plenty of courses on playwriting – and I don’t always agree with them. Much of my advice is uncontentious and anyone else will tell you the same things, but at other times I will write about things I feel get overlooked, and occasionally I will outright contradict conventional wisdom (I try to warn you when I’m doing this). You are free to heed this or ignore this as you please. I may one day look at amalgamating everything I’ve written into a single guide, but right now it’s odds and sods. I’ll write on more topics if I have enough requests.

Chrisontheatre is noisy when it comes to comment

Here’s where I get really contentious. If I wanted to, I could write plenty of comment pieces about what a good job all the arts organisations do – and in return for this flattery, get plenty of applause, Facebook likes and Twitter shares. But I’m not interested in doing that. I will openly support arts organisations when they do the right thing, but when I think they can do things better, I will say so. I am a big supporter of the open-access format of festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe, I do a lot to promote spreading this culture, and I am openly contemptuous to people who want to vet or censor these festivals. I’m also a strong supporter of grass-roots theatre, and whilst I appreciate the help offered by larger theatres, I also feel it’s sometimes hindered by some hierarchy and misguided advice.

Note, however, that I’m a firm believer in the right of reply. If you don’t agree with what I’ve written about you or your organisation, you are welcome to reply, and that reply will will, within reason, be shown uncensored and unedited. In general, I will let you have the last word. And if it’s a good reply, I might even ask if I can publish this as a full article.

(NEW) Chrisontheatre is pro-artistic freedom and anti-censorship

Although I frequently express opinions on how the arts could run better, I generally keep these opinions to opinion pieces, avoid banging on about my bugbears too much, and certainly don’t let this cloud reviews. Whether I agree or disagree with what you have to say, I will judge a play based on how well the views are expressed, not what the views are.

There is one exception, and that is artistic freedom, and its number one enemy, censorship. I don’t stop banging on about censorship because I believe this is the greatest threat to the arts at the moment, ahead of funding cuts. Where a play as a strong anti-censorship stance, I will use the opportunity to say yet again why you should care about this issue. The only limit I will set myself is that if I ever find out someone is doing a play in favour of censorship (not that I’m aware of any), I will not turn up to specifically give a bad review. The practice of writing bad reviews as punishment for bad opinions is a tool of censorship itself.

If you do not agree with my stance on artistic freedom, or you don’t like the way I keep bringing this up, then this is not the blog for you. There are plenty of review sites that stay neutral on this matter, and maybe even some that support your preferred brand of culture policing. Come back when you learn the hard way and you find yourself on the receiving end.

Chrisontheatre is a few other things too

As well as reviews, recommendations, tip and comments (in ascending order of controversy), I do a few other things. I occasionally report a few developments I think a worth a mention (with priority to little stories that the press are overlooking), analysis of plays, some coverage of non-theatre art (particularly Lumiere), and a few other odds and sods.

What I write, however, is really down to what you’re interested in. Some articles I thought would be of minor interest get a huge amount of interest, whilst others that I thought would get a lot of interest are barely noticed. Some articles lies dormant for days, weeks or even months before they get attention. If there’s anything you’d like to read about, you can always ask.

Last updated 20th September 2017

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