I've just picked up a coffee from a theatre foyer and overheard two of the staff discussing a show they’d seen in their group last night. A bit rubbish was the verdict. Fortunately I’d already seen it, and it most definitely wasn’t (in my opinion) – and featured one performance which will stay with me for many months.  

Word of mouth still remains the most powerful form of good publicity, and overheard critical conversations can be dangerous for an organisation too.  I guess the lesson I take away, as someone responsible for the communications and impressions given by a theatre and its programme to the outside world at Bury St Edmunds, is make sure this example is told to all our volunteers and staff who work front-of-house. Strongly voiced negative options ain’t good for business.

As Udderbelly runs on the Southbank, and the Edinburgh Festival prepares to set sail, and as festivals all over Britain happen where there is too much choice, and we have too little time to see everything, remember word of mouth in the marketing mix.

But remember that we have some of the most respected, experienced and dedicated reviewers anywhere in the world seeing literally hundreds of shows in a year.  Some have 20-30years experience of seeing theatre, or dance, or opera. They have a way with words to excite audiences, or to dash hype and exhale overblown expectation.  So as well as listening to the two staff behind the coffee counter, and the comments from people in the fringe ticket queue, make sure you read the critical opinions of at least 2 or 3 of the newspaper journalists or bloggers who most, appear, to share your views.  Be swayed by them…but then take a risk and don’t always believe them. 

One story if I may – I was house manager of Bristol Hippodrome in the late 1970s when the Old Vic Company brought the Scottish play with Peter O’Toole in the title role, and Brian Blessed famously doused in a bucket of blood as a very larger than life ghosts. The reviews nationally were so so so awful, and the surrounding press so bad, that everyone in Bristol knew about the show weeks before it arrived in town. And they booked in their thousands because they couldn’t believe it was as bad as the critics said. It was packed, and I stood each night as an audience went in expectant of something special/unusual/extraordinary, and then I stood as they walked out silent/stunned/bemused…with one shared comment…the critics were right, we should have believed them

Happy theatregoing - and critics - sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong,  but don’t listen too attentively to two young students behind a coffee counter telling each other that last night was rubbish.