The Last Six Years is not a musical but is a look back over six years of East Midlands Theatre being active on the internet promoting and reviewing theatre, dance, Live Art and more. Most of our work is in the professional sector and centres around the major theatres in the East Midlands: Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall, Derby Theatre and Curve. We have also reviewed at Lakeside Arts and Nottingham New Theatre at Nottingham University, Nottingham Arts Theatre and The Lace Market Theatre, Bilborough College, The Duchess Theatre and The Chatsworth Arts Centre, Derby Guildhall, DEDA, Leicester Little Theatre, Loughborough Town Hall and Leicester Haymarket Theatre. I say ‘we’ because there are now five reviewers on the East Midland Theatre’s team, and together we are affectionately known as The Press Gang.
This passion for promoting and reviewing theatre goes right back to 2013 when I (Phil Lowe) first started reviewing after writing a second blog on blogspot called http://philloweactor.blogspot.co.uk. The first blog was about food with a touch of humour added into the pot.
I had been writing for a couple of years, off and on, about my acting roles in the amateur world; my Arts degree experiences at Nottingham Trent University; my own playwriting and my all consuming adoration of an Anglo-German theatre twinning arrangement between two amateur theatres in Karlsruhe (Jakobus Theater and Die Käuze) and The Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham.
So, in May 2013 I happened across a theatre website that was called The Public Reviews (now The Reviews Hub) that were advertising for regional reviewers. Nottingham was part of their Central Region. I applied and was accepted. Below is something I wrote at the time.
‘More importantly to me I found an opportunity to work on a new aspect of my writing and from it I began to further develop my second blog about my involvement with the world of professional theatre. This came about through a chance finding of a review website called The Public Reviews. They were asking for new reviewers and so, as per their remit, I sent in a copy of a review I had done for Piaf at Curve theatre in Leicester which was accepted with some critical suggestions for style improvement and a particular way of writing. I also received an online booklet that gave all reviewers guidance and rules about the way a review should be submitted and starred. The way it works is that every Sunday a listing is sent by email and you send in a ‘bid’ by email if you want to critique a particular show. If successful you get a notification saying that two tickets will be at the box office to pick up. There is no choice in the night you go and often it can be a press night so there is a chance to mingle and have a chat with the theatre staff with a glass of wine. There is a time pressure to have the review in on time. It is sent by email and must be with Public Reviews by 12pm the next day or you may be taken off their books. Considering I don’t get home from the shows until about 11pm I still have to write the review and am often up until 1am until I am satisfied with the result. I do some research prior to going to the show which is important and helps with the writing. Incidentally, there is no wage to do this – it is done out of love for the theatre and writing. The tickets are comps and you get a free programme. I’m working full time (including weekends and a late Friday night shift) whilst I do all this.
I still review plays independently and now I have got my name and good reputation known. Over the years I also got invites from Nottingham Live and Derby Theatre to review a variety of shows. I also use Twitter and Facebook to promote my blog post reviews and those that appear on the Public Review site.’
After two years of writing for The Public Reviews and independent reviewing which automatically built up my press contacts I decided to move on and made a new website on WordPress called www.eastmidlandstheatre.com and EMT was born on 18th October 2015. In the early days I did everything myself in my spare time. Our new Twitter handle was @EM_Theatre. It all started to seem a lot more professional than the older blogspot blog. I guess I was keen to be taken seriously. It was hard work as I had to fit everything in around my day job at Tesco which also required a lot of daily travel and I don’t drive. One freezing night after seeing a show at Derby Theatre I managed to get back to Nottingham which took an hour on the Indigo bus, but I had missed any bus back to my village. I got another bus part way home and then trudged home in the deep snow for forty minutes. Madness.
As well as the regular reviewing across the East Midlands I would be getting invites to sit in on professional rehearsals and interview some of the members of the production’s cast. I would arrange my days off work around this and enjoyed the chances to be amongst the professional actors and the directors and their teams. Derby Theatre were the tops in this kind of arrangement, followed by Curve and a couple of times at Nottingham Playhouse.
I had also started to do some paid writing work writing up a couple of reviews for The Big Issue online and writing up features and interviews for Sardines Magazine. So far, I have interviewed Warwick Davies, Brian Conley, Howard Brenton, Mike Kenny, Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson, John Godber, Barrie Rutter, Lea Salonga, Janie Dee, Shane Richie, John Partridge, Rosalie Craig, Rufus Norris former Artistic Director of The National Theatre, and retired Argentine Tango star Nelida Rodriguez de Aure. There have been plenty of interviews with lesser known, but just as interesting, actors. Many of the interviews have been phone based but from time-to-time face-to-face. Most of the ‘stars’ interview well and are straight forward in promoting themselves or their forthcoming production without going around the houses and making an awkward art out of digressing. Some digress a lot and it takes three times as long disentangling what they have rambled on about on tape and making a coherent story out of the jumble of words. I have also written reviews and interviews for Nottingham Post and The Reach Group for which the word count is around 400 words. Our average review is often twice that length.
Paul Johnson, editor in chief of Sardines Magazine, kindly wrote: “As one of Sardines magazine’s top journalists, Phil Lowe contributes regular well-received articles ranging from celebrity cover stories to specially compiled features such as our recent First World War Centenary special. In the magazine publishing industry, professionalism, creativity and efficiency are of paramount importance – thankfully Phil has all three in abundance.”
Over time myself and East Midlands Theatre have been delighted with some glowing testimonials and here are just a few to whet your appetite.
“Support for theatre outside of London from publications and across media, has fallen dramatically over the years due to funding cuts to local news organisations. Trying to promote our productions and receive intelligent and rigorous critical feedback for our work is becoming increasingly challenging as there are fewer journalists and arts editors able to cover what we do. Phil Lowe’s theatre website and support of Curve has been invaluable. Phil is an intelligent, sagacious and incredibly well-schooled reviewer who has a wide understanding of the theatre ecology. The way Phil is able to share what we are doing and bring it to a wider, more diverse audience through the East Midlands Theatre website is incredibly important.” Nikolai Foster. Artistic Director. Curve Theatre. Leicester
“Phil Lowe and East Midlands Theatre continues to play a key part in all SHPR media campaigns for a range of dance clients – from emerging and mid-scale companies to larger scale touring presenters such as Dance Consortium and Dance Touring Partnership, Phil’s dedication to preview and review lifts online presence and builds interest in show after show after show. From the international Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater touring the UK to local stories and tirelessly supporting Nottingham’s Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama and SHPR campaign performances at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal & Concert Hall and the Playhouse, Phil has been there to support, talk about and report on all of them. Cheers Phil. Here’s to more collaborations with East Midlands Theatre dot com – the region, and arts PR, needs you!” Simon Harper. PR.
“Phil has a highly skilled, articulate style; methodical and well-researched in his approach. Phil’s writing technique is adaptable across a broad spectrum of publications. Having worked with Phil on numerous occasions at Nottingham Playhouse, Phil has always met my expectations and never failed to deliver on commissioned pieces of work. I would encourage any Marketing/ Communications team in an Arts venue to use Phil Lowe as a freelance writer/reviewer.” Jo McLeish. The Media Room.
“Phil Lowe, through his many roles in profiling and supporting the arts, is a fantastic and much valued contact for us at Derby Theatre. He engages with, and invests in, all strands of our work through conducting interviews and writing previews, blogs and reviews. He is also an active participant and audience member – his experiences from which also feed in to the positive profile he provides us with. When conducting interviews with actors, directors, writers etc. he is always thoroughly professional, prepared and always extremely courteous to his interviewees. Thank you, Phil for being an immense support and ambassador for Derby Theatre and the arts in the region.”
Heidi McKenzie (Press & Marketing Officer, Derby Theatre)
After exhausting myself by operating East Midlands Theatre all alone I advertised on Twitter for another locally based and, just as passionate about the arts, reviewer to join the team. I had quite a few replies including a young man who worked on the box office at Derby Theatre! Clearly a top contender was (and still is) a lady called Kathryn McAuley. Kathryn joined the team in January 2018. Since then she has done us proud by writing up dozens of inspirational reviews and has taken a sideways move into studying for, and now professionally practising, theatre captioning. She has also attended show rehearsals at Curve and finds them fascinating and inspiring. Everything Kathryn does is 100% committed and intelligent. She is no stranger to the stage herself and was proud to be cast as a pit lady in Gary Clarke’s COAL dance work that wowed audiences at Nottingham Playhouse in 2017. And, would you believe it, two of our relatively new East Midlands Theatre reviewers, Lisa Chamberlain and Cathy Robinson, were also pit ladies in the same production! What a small world!
Eventually, the time came when Kathryn and I decided that we would like to broaden our reviewing team and not only get some more intelligent and knowledgeable reviews published but also to get further female perspectives on the shows they would be seeing. This has proved to be very justifiable because as big shows inevitably come around again with new casts. Then we can get a fresh view and allow the new reviewers great opportunities to see the shows and sharpen up their reviewing skills. Lisa, Cathy and Kathryn are all fantastic reviewers with both theatre experience and excellent wordship especially when we review dance works. I’m very proud of them all and I’m enjoying being a guide and encourager to the new reviewers. I still write reviews myself.
We would like to offer our grateful thanks to the press, marketing teams and artistic directors at Nottingham Playhouse, Curve, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Derby Theatre for supporting us all this time and to Simon Harper PR for enabling us to see and share plenty of professional dance shows over the years and for bringing the excellent M.A.D.D school to our attention. And our profound thanks go to Jo McLeish (The Media Room) for her continued support and introducing us to the theatre works that are about community and sanctuary.
Here’s to our tenth anniversary in October 2025.
Do check out our specially made EMT video above that allows us to show a little of the way that East Midlands Theatre is appreciated by the theatre communities we serve. And do please follow us on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.