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Reviewing Shakespearean Theatre: The State of the Art

Reviewing Shakespearean Theatre: The State of the Art

Saturday 5th – Sunday 6th September, 2009:

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon

Theatre reviewing is a vital cultural activity that shapes much of what we remember of past performances and exerts a profound influence on our experience of theatre-making in the present. The theatre review is a key site for the transfer of knowledge and opinion, and for the dissemination of academic writing and practical theatre work to a broader reading public. Yet in spite of its cultural and economic importance, its impact on reputations, box offices, and the circulation of Shakespeare in wider culture, the activity of theatre reviewing is itself rarely placed under scrutiny.

This two-day conference-workshop, a collaboration between the CAPITAL Centre the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) and Nottingham Trent University, brought together journalists, broadcasters, theatre practitioners and academics to debate the current state of Shakespearean theatre criticism. It built on two one-day events at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and at the CAPITAL Centre in December 2006 that began to sketch out the terms of the debate; it picked up conversations happening among academic reviewers on the internet and in informal discussion groups; and it addressed many UK theatre directors interest in the. Unusually, the structure of the conference-workshop was designed to move from general discussion of theoretical and practical issues to the specifics of a single performance. After a day of papers and panels, the delegates attended the performance of As You Like It at the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre on the Saturday evening. The following morning conference members explored the issues arising from the first day’s discussion with reference to this shared experience of performance. This weekend thus provided a unique opportunity for dialogue and collaboration between historically separated constituencies (directors, journalists, students, actors and educators), all of whom shared an underlying interest in and commitment to the popular dissemination of Shakespeare.

Delegates were asked to consider a range of questions: Why and how do we read reviews? What is the function of the review (informative, financial, PR, archival, educational) in selling, circulating and memorialising Shakespearean performance? How does the medium – online, newspaper, academic journal, radio – and implied audience of the review influence its form? What impact does reviewing have on performance practice, both immediately and in relation to future artistic policy? What do theatre practitioners want from reviews and what do reviewers want from performers? How does the critical climate in the UK compare to that abroad? How do Anglophone reviewers read non-Anglophone Shakespeare and vice-versa? What qualifies the reviewer? Can reviewing be taught? What role do reviews and public criticism play in the promulgation of Shakespeare’s cultural value and the position of Stratford-upon-Avon as a site of national heritage?

Speakers and participants included critics Michael Billington, Michael Coveney, Andrew Dickson; academics Carol Rutter, Peter Holland, Stanley Wells, Paul Edmondson, Paul Prescott, Peter Smith; theatre practitioners Tim Supple and Janet Suzman.

Podcasts of conference highlights are available on this page. Previews and reviews can be found at:

The papers, a transcript of the discussions and an introductory essay (authored by the conference organisers) will be published as a special edition of Shakespeare.

A programme can be downloaded here (PDF Document)




Conference Podcasts

Michael Billington


Panel Discussion


Peter Holland on 'The Rhetoric of Reviewing'


Post-show Review and Reflection


Workshop: Evaluating Performance in the 2009 RSC As You Like It


Future Conference Network Plans