I have loved theatre ever since I was a child. My earliest theatre memory is going to see The Merchant of Venice at the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol, I must have been about 6, and the excitement of being taken on a journey, but not knowing what was about to happen was akin to stepping inside the ghost ride at a fairground, but without the skeletons and screaming. It was exhilarating. It helped that my mum had a coat pocket filled with sherbet lemons.
I also fell in love with the backstage when my ballet class performed, annually, at the Victoria Rooms, a curious old building in the heart of Bristol’s affluent shopping area and now the home of the University’s music department. Beneath the stage were what felt like miles of corridors and damp dressing rooms. There were corners to hide in and doors that seemed to lead nowhere. It was atmospheric and exciting, laced with the nerves and adrenalin of 30 or more, over-sugared small girls dressed as rabbits or clowns. I loved it.
Since I moved to Reading, a dichotomy of a town, full of potential but small enough and underfunded enough to struggle to fulfil it, I have consistently heard that there are no arts or theatre activities of any merit going on here; that it is a cultural wasteland. This is patently untrue.
I am now part of an amazing theatre company here, Beautiful Creatures Theatre, which never fails to inspire me with its ambition and genuine participatory activities. With the company I have toured to outdoor theatre festivals across the UK, and even performed at the National Theatre of Prague. I have worked with some of the country’s best contemporary dancers, and the town’s most inspiring young people.
My passion is for contemporary theatre, dance and movement, physical theatre, visual theatre, experimentation, innovation and creativity. I think participatory theatre should be genuinely made and shaped by its participants, and I think theatre that calls itself ‘local’ should demonstrate genuine engagement from the local community. I think theatre should be accessible and inclusive. It should challenge stereotypes, it should explore the depths and heights of human experience and it should inspire, motivate and question.
I have also had the pleasure of getting to know the network of artists, performers, directors, producers and all the other people who shape the arts in Reading. I’ve listened to their frustrations and battles, successes and ambitions. Some of what comes out of Reading is good, some is excellent, some is ok and some is genuinely bad in intention and outcome. For some reason, the best work is often the least well promoted.
It is often the people who shout the loudest about their work that produce the lowest quality product, perhaps they spend their time marketing instead of shaping their work, and in a town where the reputation for theatre arts is unjustifiably negative, this is a real problem.
My mission then, is to help raise the profile of the innovative, ground breaking, inspiring theatre that is being made and shown here in Reading and in Berkshire by honestly and critically reviewing as much theatre as I can, of all genres. I hope these reviews will offer a different viewpoint to audiences, to help discover some of the amazing theatre that takes place, and offer something other than the blind praise or overblown statements that seem to come from some companies, reviews, press articles and websites. I saw a play recently that had some terrible reviews from well respected critics, and the strap line on their website still reads ‘new production, launched to rave reviews’.
I decided to balance this out by writing for the British Theatre Guide, a wide reaching and respected platform of reviewers across the UK, and for AltReading, a new and exciting hub for all things creative in Reading.
Promoting theatre and the reputation of arts in Reading should not be about singing the praises of anything that goes on regardless of its quality. It should be about recognising excellence and the aim towards excellence.
I do not write positive reviews without really good reason and similarly, when a review is negative it is because it is genuinely not good. I aim to be polite, fair, reasonable, but honest.
However, it is, of course, only my opinion, guided by my taste, background and experience and I hugely welcome discourse and debate about the arts… in fact, that’s sort of the point of the whole thing!
Thanks for reading!