As I was reminded by a delightful woman the other day when I told her I had a theatre blog, ‘any old person can have a blog now, can’t they?’. Well, yes, they can, but it takes dedication to keep up with it and if what you’re writing is rubbish, no one’s going to want to read it. However, the sheer growth in the number of people writing blogs is undeniable and it means everyone can be a critic with a bit of commitment and a laptop. So what effect has this had on London’s West End?
Blogging’s impact is not yet as high as an endorsement from a national newspaper; a five star review from The Guardian, for example, will make its way onto a poster for the production, but a five star review from me will be nowhere near. But this is arguably only applicable for recently opened shows – what happens when it’s been running for six months? A year? The big papers don’t tend to get invited back unless there’s a cast change so this leaves a gap for theatre bloggers to have a bit more of a say. Every night there’s a possibility that someone with a blog will be in to give the show a review. I think this is where the impact lies; productions have the constant possibility that someone will publish a review of their performance making it even more vital that a five star show is always put on. This works both ways – bloggers want the exposure, and shows want people to know that they’re still there so might even post a positive blogger’s review on their Twitter or Facebook pages.
Social media also maintains this constant judgement on West End shows – most people probably don’t even think before sending out a quick tweet to either praise or criticise a show soon after they’ve seen it. My Twitter feed is always full of shows retweeting positive comments in this way and I think this arguably has an even bigger impact than a full review. Seeing a short message from someone you care about enough to follow on Twitter about a show has a massive effect on what you might think about it. It gives theatre criticism a more personal touch, making it seem as if a friend is recommending you do or do not see a certain thing – and who’s opinion would you value more, a friend, or someone you probably wouldn’t recognise in the street writing for a paper?
Despite this, I still sense there’s a slight reluctance of West End shows to get fully involved with bloggers. London’s fringe and many local theatres have, in my experience, embraced this phenomenon with open arms. But if the big theatres can fill their seats just by inviting in the traditional newspaper critics (which has worked well for years), why would they go to the effort of venturing out into the hundreds of blog writers if only to expose their show to a few extra people, (compared to the millions that might see a Daily Mail article)? I think this is where large blogging communities such as the #LDNTheatreBloggers really come into their own. By gathering a big group of writers together and combining their readership, theatres can get the best of both worlds: support emerging bloggers, but still gain the views needed to effectively promote a show.
Now onto my inspiration for writing this post… I was contacted about two weeks ago by Caity O’Shaughnessy about her dissertation research into the effect theatre blogging has on the West End. I then managed to miss the Twitter chat on this subject which was arranged last Tuesday as I was seeing I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (which was brilliant, by the way), so this post is kind of my way of joining in without actually joining in (if that makes ANY sense whatsoever). Anyway, there’s a survey which I will link here about how you interact with theatre blogs. I’m sure five minutes of your time to fill it out would be much appreciated, and if you have any other thoughts on this subject I’m sure a comment on this post wouldn’t go amiss!