ELF the Musical (Review)

Review of Elf the musical playing at the Dominion theatre, by Carl published in Theatre & Performance.

Review of Elf the musical by Carl Woodward

Michael Billington: “A scheme like this is vitally important”

Billington praises Young Critic scheme

Britain’s longest serving Theatre critic Michael Billington took part in the Theatre Royal Winchester’s Young Critics scheme earlier this month.

Michael said: “I had a very good time at the Young Critics workshop in Winchester. More important, however, was the palpable commitment and hunger to learn of those who attended.”


He added that “A scheme like this is vitally important at a time when young critics need all the practical help they can get in a world where the digital revolution has created new opportunities.”

Organiser and founder of the project, Carl Woodward said “We were absolutely delighted to welcome Michael to speak to our bright young people. Michael has been critic for over 40 years. He spoke candidly about his illustrious career as a theatre writer and was on hand to lend rich practical advice for our aspiring reviewers. It is a huge testament to the project to secure his attendance for this very special workshop.”


Young Critics’ workshops are led by journalists and leading theatre critics in association with A Younger Theatre. Participants are provided with mentoring and can see their work in print thanks to a partnership with The Big Issue.

For more information E:

Photo credit Dominic Parkes

How to become a critic

How to become a critic

Answer this. A critic: (A) Keeps a personal blog that includes reports of their regular trips to the theatre (B) Makes a living as a contributor to The Stage or (C) Earns a living from writing about theatre? If you answered all of the above, you’re absolutely correct. If you answered (B) or (C) you’ve been reading too much about theatre criticism. With shrinking arts coverage critics are needed more than ever. Whether you are writing a conversational blog or a think-piece to Exeunt Magazine, it should illuminate your experiences in their own terms and validate your commentary.

Young Critics Workshop

Young Critics Workshop

Hustle (i.e. network)

Get to your local arts festival and explore work in smaller scale venues in your town or city. Be considerately tenacious as the first time you make a pitch it will quite likely be ignored or declined. Your radical idea will be at the bottom of the to-do-list. Don’t give up; keep going. Use social media and meet with like-minded people; speak to others who understand what you do. When people talk about networking, the first thing that comes to mind is awkward encounters with elevator pitches and the pretentious looking-over-shoulders to see if someone more important walked in. You go places, you meet people and you take their card and follow it up even if you think it’s an empty promise or not. It’s vital to connect on social media, but it’s important to get out and meet people face-to-face. There is no substitute. Get yourself on, print business cards and carry them with you. If someone is actively interested in what you do or how they can contact you, give them a card and take theirs. Networking might seem scary, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds: just be considerate, alert, and above all be you.

Don’t sit on the fence, you’ll get splinters

Don’t be afraid of saying something that people will disagree with. Quality criticism can and should offer a fair and balanced opinion, even if it is a negative one. Be confident in your response and offer constructive thoughts on the work you have seen. The casual reader will want to know what did or didn’t work and why, and this means getting down in the trenches to pick it apart. Reviews present a distinct sensibility, a unique dialogue between reader and culture where an investment in difference takes priority over consumption. Many critics carve out their own niche to discuss art forms they love which helps establish a credible voice. That said, it’s important to head to the seemingly wrong place at the right time and challenge your tastes. Review work that isn’t covered by the mainstream; take a leap of faith. The average audience member will want to know: Will I enjoy it? Is it good value for money? Be objective. Research the play, company and their mission statement before declaring it a flop simply because you didn´t like it.

Casting your net wide

Writing criticism is a great way for gifted writers to get noticed. In order to write about theatre you need to go out and see as much of it as you possibly can. Should your financial situation be an obstacle, then perhaps contact your local theatre’s marketing officer and explain your position and request to be put on the press list. Alternatively, there are great schemes around for 18 to 25 year olds offering discounted tickets. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, it’s important that you approach marketing departments and publications in a professional and respectful capacity. Get feedback on your work. Try not to be too precious – take advice which you find valuable and leave the rest. People are generally decent and considerate, but don’t be afraid to speak your mind if you have a point to make. Don’t send journalists your PHD proposal but reach out to a few reviewers whose work you admire. Keep your pitches short and snappy, and fundamentally, if you don’t ask you don’t get.

To be published on Arts Professional, September 2015

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015 – vlogs


  1.  Day 1 at Edinburgh Festival with journalist Mark Fisher (The Guardian)
  2. With Jake Orr ( A Younger Theatre)

3.  I caught up with Amit Lahav (Gecko Theatre Company) in a bar at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, who’s show Institute is playing The Pleasance.

4.  Edinburgh Fringe Festival Vlog featuring Kirsty Housely, Co-director of The Encounter (Complicite)

5.  Featuring Lyn Gardner

6.  I caught up with Charlie and Louis from Circus company Barely Methodical Troupe who are presenting Bromance at the Circus

7.  Chit chat with Associate Director of Proteus Theatre company at Ed Fringe.

8.  Rather randomly, I bumped into Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015.

Edinburgh (a prologue)

Three weeks ago Mark Fisher (The Guardian) told me I should go to Edinburgh. I imagine it to be like Winchester with shabbier and more intoxicated people. Thanking you in advance, Fisher!

Mr Fisher

In just 48 hours I will be taking a seat at The Underbelly to watch my first show ‘Bromance’ by BMT (Barely Methodical Troupe) *swoon* at Edinburgh Fringe Festival (The largest arts festival in the world). I will be writing two features, one for The Big Issue and Arts Professional. My schedule currently contains fifteen shows over three days. *air punch*

I’ve never been to Scotland before let alone an enormous festival(!) Here, I should probably offer some ceremonial apologies in advance. As project manager for Young Critics I have been afforded a unique insight into the minds of our countries leading critics and bloggers and hope to put some of the knowledge to good use.

Expect a flurry of blog posts because if there is one thing I’ve learnt it’s that blogs are really important. They put you in touch with your reader. And it helps if the reader is plural.

Do not despair…


A Level in Media Studies (PROOF)

It’s fair to say that one is quite excited about witnessing the transcendent and the downright mediocre. I will be keeping a daily blog about my experiences, appreciation and affections for what’s on display at this. I suppose a de facto account of my time will follow.

Sure, I’ve booked in for some safe bets (The Encounter, Fake it ‘Til You Make It and Institute etc) however, I’m open to unexpected treasures and have left space in my schedule to seek out those hidden gems.

There is more writing about theatre criticism than ever, which is excellent for theatre. Anyway, let the fun proliferate.

*thumbs up emoji*

Hampshire theatre extends young writer project



A WINCHESTER theatre is extending its industry-leading project to encourage youngsters to write about performing arts.

Source: Hampshire theatre extends young writer project

Young Critics Autumn Season

Young Critics

Theatre Royal Winchester is extending its industry-leading project into the Autumn season, due to popular demand. Workshops are led by national journalists and leading theatre critics. There are exciting opportunities to review shows at regional theatres and participants will be provided with mentoring and an opportunity for their work to be published in The Big Issue. A number of regional theatres have been supporting the scheme with an offer of press tickets for participants. Michael Ockwell Chief Executive of The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton said: “We are delighted to be working with our colleagues at Theatre Royal Winchester on this wonderful initiative. Informed, relevant and considered criticism is crucial to the development of arts appreciation and Issue. Mayflower Theatre is pleased to play a small role in facilitating enriching discussions for all the participants in the Young Critics scheme.’

Michael Billington

Young Critics has been attracting a stellar lineup of contributors including The Guardian’s Michael Billington: Britain’s longest-serving theatre critic. He is undeniably a fixture of British Theatre. Michael said: ” I’m delighted to be taking part in a workshop for Young Critics.. So I’m very happy both to talk about the critical trade and hand on whatever practical advice I can.”

The six week course begins in September and costs £90. The course fee includes all sessions and additional ticket offers to shows at other regional venues (including Theatre Royal Winchester, The Mayflower, Southampton, Salisbury Playhouse and Nuffield Theatre) To book call Theatre Royal Winchester box office on 01962 840440.

For further information visit

For press information please call 01962 844 600 ext. 208

Young Critics to get exclusive access at Hat Fair


The Young Critics scheme, which is sponsored by A Younger Theatre, will have exclusive access to performers and acts at Hat Fair 2015.

Source: Young Critics to get exclusive access at Hat Fair

Young Critics – An overview

The media landscape is changing faster than ever as there is such a wealth of opportunities to write and be heard. How does one make a living reviewing theatre and how does one stand out above online noise?

Matt Trueman (Whatsonstage) talks about critical culture

Matt Trueman (Whatsonstage) talks about critical culture

One immutable fact remains: whatever the mechanism for theatre criticism and reviewing, a critical culture is essential to stimulate interest in the arts and to keep audiences alert to the diversity of productions in the capital and across the country.

At Theatre Royal Winchester we have launched our own Young Critics scheme, an opportunity for aspiring critics aged 18 to 25 to participate in masterclasses with some of the foremost figures in theatre criticism and journalism. As a freelance theatre practitioner I have delivered a variety of community and education projects and believe that theatre should engage people through different methods.To me it was logical to provide a learning opportunity to educate, inspire and inform young people and to uncover new talent.

Participants with editor of The Stage newspaper, Alistair Smith & Jake Orr, Director of A Younger Theatre

Participants with editor of The Stage newspaper, Alistair Smith & Jake Orr, Director of A Younger Theatre

This project is financially sustainable and doesn’t rely on any funding streams, though we are exploring sponsorship to continue in the long term. The participant fee covers the running costs and we have been fortunate that most critics were willing to contribute to their own expenses. We don’t want anyone to miss out due to financial constraints so we have bursaries available for those in receipt of means-tested benefits.

To me it was logical to provide a learning opportunity to educate, inspire and inform young people and to uncover new talent. Participant Charlotte Nelson from Chandlers Ford in Hampshire, said: “I signed up because I see a lot of musical theatre and write reviews for my blog but they weren’t to a professional standard. I am hoping the course will expand my writing skills.” Another participant Bethany Rimmer from Evesham, said: “To my knowledge there’s currently nothing else like this available. It’s exciting to know that there are people out there who care about the future of criticism and who want to help nurture those who are enthusiastic about the industry. The workshops so far have been insightful, and it’s a valuable opportunity to get feedback on our writing.”

Participants with Mark Shenton (The Stage)

Participants with Mark Shenton (The Stage)

The arts thrive in a climate of provocative debate, so the primary aim of the scheme is to develop new reviewers, broaden critical writing at a grassroots level and afford participants the opportunity to hear first hand from the experts. They have the opportunity to see three shows across the south west of England and receive feedback on their reviews.

Group photo with Lyn Gardner (The Guardian)

Group photo with Lyn Gardner (The Guardian)

Lyn Gardner, one of our team of experienced critics, said: “I’m delighted to be taking part in the scheme. It’s terrific to see a theatre encouraging young people not just to engage with performance but to think and write about it too. Supporting a critical culture is good for theatre as a transferable skill that can be applied in many areas of life.”

Former Daily Telegraph Chief Theatre Critic, Tim Walker

Former Daily Telegraph Chief Theatre Critic, Tim Walker

Following a successful pilot and overwhelming response from the industry, we are extending the project into our summer season and looking at expanding its reach across the region in partnership with other key venues. The Southern Daily Echo and Big Issue South West have agreed to publish reviews so the future looks bright for the next generation.

New critics on the block | ArtsProfessional

A new strand to Theatre Royal Winchester’s learning and participation work sees young people developing their skills as theatre critics, says Carl Woodward.

Source: New critics on the block | ArtsProfessional