It can be exhausting trying to book tickets for West End shows without some kind of London theatre guide. Unless you have been heartily recommended to go by a friend whose taste levels you trust implicitly or you simply have to see the star no matter what, we always like a little reassurance when making our theatre purchase. Most shows are advertised in newspapers, on billboards outside the theatre or on ticket agent websites with the official poster for the show and a couple of choice review quotes: "astonishing", "thrilling", "a must-see"… what show would advertise itself with its bad reviews after all? There might be a few lines summarising the piece and its cast to whet your appetite but aside from the carefully selected glowing reviews how else do we know if we've backed a guddun?
We can always trawl through the reviews in various newspapers to get a more balanced reaction. This takes quite a bit of advance preparation to make sure we check all the papers on the day after a show's press night - and is certainly no good if the show opened a decade ago. If only we had somewhere where past reviews were collated, as well as those of regular Joe Public. Luckily, we do - the internet. These days it is so easy to search the net and within seconds we can be scouring through reams of opinions on a show. Simply type in the name of the show and the word 'reviews', or hone your search with other keywords such as 'newspapers you trust', or even the word 'bad' to get a balanced view. There are even websites that are dedicated to showing a balanced mix of reviews, posting the good, the bad and the ugly.
Even handier these days are the increasing number of bloggers out there. Theatre-addicts will often have their own blogs writing all their thoughts on the shows they see - just type in the words 'theatre blogs' or something similar. Once you have found a few whose opinions you share on other shows you know they are likely to have similar tastes to you and you can click to follow them.
They are more likely to be unbiased towards a show - they are unlikely to have anything to gain by pushing one show or ripping another apart just for the sake of it. In fact once they have developed a loyal following their integrity is paramount meaning you will usually get their honest opinion. Of course at the end of the day everyone has different tastes, but it's always good to compare a few bloggers thoughts with those from other sources to help guide your choices. You may also find that they bring shows to your attention that you didn't know about.
It's not just the quality of the plays that you can guage by surfing the net. All manner of details are out there, with sites that explain the benefit of sitting in certain seats in a theatre over others vis-à-vis view or pricing; information of where a theatre is and how to get there and addresses and telephone numbers you may need. Booking agencies will often have pages on their website directing you straight to their special offers knowing full well that everyone likes a bargain. This could save hours trawling through each show's individual pages. Price comparison sites will also help you save time when making a booking. You can also find guidance about the perils you could come across - simply type a question such as 'why should I pay a booking fee?', 'what are ticket touts?' or 'which ticket agents can I trust?' and you will get a myriad of responses you can then filter through.
If you want to go to the next level, you can always set up a blog of your own, giving people your own views about the good and bad in Theatreland. After all, why shouldn't you be a London theatre guide too?