Originally published in The Stage, January 2016
Theatre is a transitory art form, and in many ways we celebrate that. One of the great joys of seeing a play is the ‘live’ nature of the event, knowing that never again will that performance happen in quite that way, with quite that group of people. But if that live element of a production can never be captured, how do we record theatre, and the process of making theatre for future generations? What record do we leave behind of the work we produced and how we produced it?
One of the most consistent records we have comes from journalists. Far more people will read about the opening of Sarah Kane’s Blasted through the eyes of the critics than ever saw the original production in the tiny Theatre Upstairs at London’s Royal Court. The legend of that opening night, and countless others, are recorded by critics, and subsequently referred to for years to come, quoted by students and studied by academics; if you want an account of a former production, one of the first places you’ll look will be the critics’ responses.