Libby Purves OBE: Theatre Blogger Q&A

Ever thought about writing a theatre blog? Even seasoned bloggers sometimes need some expert guidance, so we were utterly thrilled when BBC broadcasting legend and theatre critic Libby Purves OBE agreed to share a few of her insider tips with us.
Tips like:
  • How bloggers get started?
  • How long should a review be?
  • Which blogs do the bloggers read?
  • How long do bloggers spend blogging?
  • Why it’s not always about the big hit shows.

Hi Libby and thanks for sharing your expertise. When did you start writing a blog?

I started theatrecat when I was sacked from the job of Times Chief Theatre Critic in autumn 2013, due to a change of editor. I had so many mournful responses from readers, theatres and people involved saying “carry on, we like your reviews because they’re informative and readable, and there are ever fewer broadsheet ones..”

How much of your time do you spend on blogging?

I work overnight after each play as a rule – maybe 4 / 5 a week.  I don’t “blog” in the chatty long-feature sense, simply write reviews to a broadsheet length (rarely over 500 words) and stick to the embargoes, credits, sponsor acknowledgments for theatres, etc, trying to be as like a quality newspaper as possible.  I don’t do interviews, news, anything like that.  I just tweet when a new review’s up, and people can subscribe on email to get them automatically. When I am busy elsewhere or away, I have a few “theatrekittens” who are young and bright and kindly replace me…also I sometimes delegate when I know I can’t get to a play, or have too strong an idiosyncratic negative view about the author… I feel one should be fair.

Libby Purves: one of UK broadcasting's most familiar voices.
Libby Purves OBE: one of UK broadcasting’s most recognisable voices.

Which other theatre blogs do you read?

Whatsonstage, Shentonstage, others at random!

Have you turned your blog into a profitable business or do you write it for just for fun?

It’s not about the money, but the awareness and stimulus feeds into my other writing, including a forthcoming book on theatre and its critics.

What advice can you offer someone who is thinking of starting a theatre blog?

Keep your reviews shortish and not boring, don’t think of yourself as some sort of godlike judge, rather as a reporter,   and if you MUST break embargoes by going to early previews, admit it and make allowances.

Which show is your guilty pleasure?

Last year it was Gypsy with Imelda Staunton which I saw no less than three times.   And I do love cabaret / burlesque / circus.  But they’re all pleasures, from RSC to the rattiest pub backroom… Have had as great a thrill in tiny humble venues as at any big splashy musical

Libby Purves: Broadcaster and creator of
Libby Purves is a hugely respected broadcaster, cabaret lover and theatre aficionada.
If you could have dinner with any actor, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

Simon Russell Beale!!!  Though actually I already did, once, when interviewing.  But I like a lot of actors personally. I think what they do is astonishing, and valuable, and often very honest.

What are your thoughts on mobile phones in theatres?

There are electronic jamming systems, but small theatres shouldn’t have to {resort to that}.   I think if anyone is deliberately  using one they should probably be asked to leave.  Sudden ringtones rapidly quelled by embarrassed owners, not too bad a crime.

Libby Purves: Theatre Cat
Theatre Cat…always on the prowl for unforgettable theatre.


Libby Purves hosts Midweek on BBC Radio 4. She has written 10 novels including One Summer’s Grace and was the first person to broadcast live from Beijing when she hosted Today there in 1978. Previously chief theatre critic of the Times, she now runs the online review site Theatrecat.

Libby Purves’ reviews are always engaging, erudite and informative. If Libby has inspired you, why not consider starting a blog of your own? Sites like wordpress and are free to use and limited only by your own imagination. There’s a whole world of Theatre out there, so what are you waiting for? Get blogging!
If writing is your thing, here’s a great article we’ve found featuring Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell on the National Association of Writers in Education website. You might also be interested to read Andrzej Lukowski’s advice for how to get a five star career as a theatre critic at the Bright Knowledge careers site and Theatre Critic: Job Description at the website.