Top 5 things critics love to love (or how to stage a critical hit in the new year)


As we near the end of the year, many theatre makers are winding down and vacating the stages for pantos and seasonal shows (someone has to give those plucky underdogs a leg up).

Many will be turning their attention to big plans for 2016 and we're here to help.

In this time of reflection - and a comfortable distance from the more reactionary festival season - we thought we'd have a bit of fun and impart our top tips for next year.

Here's how to ensure your show gets that all important critical kudos.

Top 5 things theatre critics love (And you'll get away with murder if your play touches on any of them).

1. The impossibility of communication and the limitation of language.

Bonus points if the play is literally about language or silence, or has a mute in it.

Double bonus points if the play is about the impossibility of knowing other people's minds or the futility of saying anything about anybody who has ever lived, thus freeing you from the need to actually say anything. It's important to remember; there's always a danger that saying something could be drawing a trite conclusion. Better to ask questions than offer answers. we've always secretly felt that Bamber Gascoigne would have been a great playwright.

Suggested title: Singing Esperanto

2. How 'we are the stories we tell'.

Bonus points if you have a story within your story. And that story is idealised and has the rough edges taken off, thus being a meditation on how art is a way to process a complex and imperfect world.

Double bonus points if it has the word 'story' or 'play' in the title (or anything at all that draws attention to the fact that this is just people telling a story.

Suggested title: The Kilburn Tragedy

3. The elusiveness and unreliability of memory

Bonus Points if you can cross this with number 2 above (It's a bit like a double word score in scrabble).

Double Bonus Points if you can imply that our collective memories our intertwined but jumbled. What is the past except the collective sum of our imperfect memories?

Consider a fragmented Rashomon or Citizen Kane structure for the triple word score.

Suggested title: Fading Embers OR Memories of my Father/Mother/Grand Uncle Once Removed.

4. Performative identity. We are all Just performing a role.

Bonus Points if the actors are playing actors or have to pretend to be something they're not. Works especially well for farces.

Double bonus points if you can avoid quoting the Merchant of Venice.

Did you hear? The world is a stage.

Suggested title: Anything with 'Being' in it should work fine.

Being Bamber Gascoigne would be a great title for his debut for example.

5. Theatre:

Yes, it doesn't matter what your play is about, make it about theatre.

Let's all just admit it. We all love a show when we have that dawning realisation. 'Oh! this is really all about theatre and storytelling.

Why? Because everyone knows theatre is the most important creation in the history of humanity, right?

To be fair, it's not jus theatre. There's a reason the academy gave Best Picture to The Artist and Argo. They're about cinema.

What's that? Oh, your show is about the struggles of an isolated tribe of pygmies in Central Africa?

I have to say I wasn't sold until you told me they're attempting to put on a play.

I can't wait for the bit where the language barrier complicates the story they're telling therefore making it impossible to narratively preserve the collective memories of this fading people. Perhaps the truth of this tribe is really in the roles that they play for us because what other truth is there, really? After all, we'll never know what they were truly like before we observed them because once we watch, we change the meaning.

Grrrr!!! THEATRE!!!!!

Suggested title: Pygmieleon

Bonus points for breaking the 4th wall (naturally) or having a play within a play (they're classics for a reason).

Double bonus points if you can explain some historical moment or horrific tragedy by implying that it is really a piece theatre on a grand scale. Sure, the Holocaust is a fine place to start, the 1916 Rising is an obvious possibility but let's try and think contemporary. We're not saying ISIS and the refugee crisis. But we're not NOT saying it either.

Note: Happy endings are to be avoided at all costs and if you can throw in a reference to how our families f*ck us up then what the harm? It's nice to get a dig in when you can.


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