Open Letter to Sydney’s Theatre Critics

14 Dec

Firstly, thanks so much. The job you have chosen is not an easy one, but it is important.

About this time, some of you will publish your “Best of the Year” list.

This is not something that usually interests me, unless subtlenuance is on your list – and then I’ll social-media-the-shit-out-of-it.

What I would love is if you’d spend some time discussing what is happening in the scene overall. After all, you see so much theatre, much more than the rest of us. Some of you, I know, will have seen over 150 shows this year!


An interest in quality control is what many of you have in common, so by all means tell us what shows you enjoyed the most. But there are many other things I’m also keen to know.

These include:

  • As a culture, what sort of things do we produce theatre about? Are there any themes we seem obsessed with? Or are there important issues not being explored? What conversations are we having with our audiences?
  • How much new writing is there? And what’s it about? And how does it compare to overseas work? Is there a distinctively Australian voice? And is this new work reactive, attempting to take part in existing contemporary conversations, or does it ambitiously address issues explored nowhere else?
  • How much work is actually genuine art? (Now, that’s a term to start a conversation.) How much of it is simply pure fun? And how much is merely produced as a showcase for the talents of the actors and directors?
  • When non-original work is produced, where is it from? Is it predominantly classics or is it recently imported material from theatrical hot spots like the UK and the US? Having seen the productions, why do you think these choices are being made?
  • How does the indie scene differ from the main stage?
  • There is a vital push for more diversity in programming and on stage. What impact is this having on the actual work?
  • What is the house style of particular theatres?
  • And what isn’t happening in the scene that you really think should? After all, a good critic recognises what’s happening, and a great critic knows what is not.

Go on, make outrageously broad generalizations. You’ve earned it!

And thanks again.

Paul Gilchrist

6 Responses to “Open Letter to Sydney’s Theatre Critics”

  1. Jason Blake December 14, 2016 at 2:04 am #

    Just for your interest (and amusement, perhaps), here’s how I’ve been asked to format my review of Sydney theatre in 2016. 700 words under the following click-friendly headings:

    1. What were they thinking?

    2. Surprise packet

    3. Courting controversy

    4. Shining star (s)

    Wish me luck.

    • Paul Gilchrist December 14, 2016 at 4:09 am #

      Good luck indeed! And thanks for turning up to the no-doubt-ridiculous number of shows you have seen this year!

    • hrhdiana December 14, 2016 at 11:24 am #

      You need more than luck, Jason, but you’re used to that…

  2. lisathatcher December 14, 2016 at 7:55 am #

    You DO realise this means you have to do it to, don’t you?

    • Paul Gilchrist December 15, 2016 at 2:08 am #

      Yes, Lisa, though it will have to be next year – as this year most of the theatre I saw was subtlenuance!

  3. Wes Babcock March 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm #

    Hey Paul,
    I write for the New Ottawa Critics, in Canada. Just wanted to let you know that I really like this list of questions for theatre critics. We attempt to answer quite a few of them in all of the reviews we write. And just because you seem like you might be interested: we also started a weekly series about how we see criticism and theatre more broadly as functioning in the world called Dark Day Mondays.


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