Mark Shenton’s week: Why do critics review sold-out shows?

Ian McKellen in King Lear at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan Last Saturday I was part of a panel on the new TV edition of BBC’s Front Row, talking about (among other things) Chichester Festival Theatre’s King Lear starring Ian McKellen. In an interview clip screened before we reviewed the show, he said it is likely to be his last Shakespearean outing. That alone is newsworthy; but quite what purpose does it serve to tell the viewing nation just how good it is? They could hardly rush online and secure tickets, even if they were actually available. As I said in my review for The Stage : "After the Tom Hiddleston Hamlet played at RADA’s 160-seater Vanburgh Theatre for just three weeks, this year’s second-most exclusive Shakespearean production sees Ian McKellen as King Lear in the slightly larger (283-seat) Minerva Theatre at Chichester for five weeks." But, you don’t have to see a show to be interested in knowing about it. One of my favourite lines by playwright Simon Gray occurs in his play Quartermaine’s Terms, where one character describes why they read book reviews but not the books themselves: "I like to keep abreast of my ignorance." […]

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