Features Published 11 February 2021

Exeunt: The First Five Years

Exeunt marks its tenth birthday with a look back at its beginnings from co-Founding Editor Natasha Tripney.

Natasha Tripney

Exeunt was created to fill a hole. At the time, there was a lively, if heavily male-weighted, theatre blogging scene including David Eldridge, Chris Goode, Matt Trueman, Dan Hutton, and the peerless West End Whingers. Mark Shenton documented the day-to-day life of a theatre critic in The Stage. The Guardian was in a flush period and offering space to a number of those voices in their theatre blog. But there wasn’t a publication that offered the kind of playful, joy-suffused, passionate, irreverent writing that you often found in film, music and food journalism. It didn’t exist, at least not in the UK, so we set out to rectify that, to create a space for play and experiment, for writers to hone their voice and sharpen their tools, while also expressing their love for the artform. As word counts were curtailed and budgets cut in the mainstream media, we had the luxury of space. Our reviewers could roam. They could stretch.

The site began as an offshoot of MusicOMH, a music website run by the generous and kind Michael Hubbard that continues to offer some of the eloquent and incisive music writing around. As the theatre section of musicOMH expanded to encompass coverage of everything from the West End to Ovalhouse, it became increasingly clear it needed its own dedicated space – and name.

Daniel B Yates was instrumental in making this happen. He helped turn an idea hatched in various theatre bars into a reality. Thanks to the efforts of endlessly patient web designer, Sean Deel, the site started to come together and Exeunt was launched in February 2011. Other potential names we were sensible enough to reject include The Gestus and Sightlines. Instead, we settled on a name that we still often have to tell people how to spell and/or pronounce.

We had a lot of ideas about the kind of site we wanted to create. The intention was to straddle the space between the academic journal and the popular press, to blur the line between critic and maker, to balance in-depth analysis with the longform, the poetic, and the personal. It was intended to be a space where you could write an ode the sweat on an actor’s neck, where you could attempt to capture the transitory magic of the act of performance, a space in which to rant, to rhapsodize, or just obsess about Chris Brett Bailey’s hair.

From the beginning it was both a platform for critics to hone their craft, and a community. Being a freelance writer can be islanding, but Exeunt was always a collective effort. We’ve published the work of many wonderful writers – it’s impossible to name them all here – but some were instrumental in shaping the site. Academic and Guardian-critic-to-be Catherine Love was a key editorial presence early on, as was Julia Rank. Diana Damian coordinated the coverage of live art and performance. Richard Patterson was our original New York editor. Maria Iu wrote vividly about dance. Carmel Doohan wrote sprawling texts about spoken word. For a while Exeunt hosted Chris Bennion and Gareth Jandrell’s deliciously funny theatre podcast Freddie Starr Ate My Theatre. Tim Bano and Annegret Marten would also contribute superb podcasts over the years.

People used to ask about Exeunt headquarters as if we had an office somewhere with a taxidermy bear in the foyer and a crystal fountain of white wine, but it has always been a
DIY operation, put together from the sofa of whatever flat I was living in at the time, often in the small hours of the morning. A lot of gin has been consumed in its creation.

Over the years Exeunt has been a place for experiment, for stretching what a theatre review can be. Yes, there were star ratings at the start. We decided they were necessary for the publication to be taken seriously, which was probably true, if depressing. Still, after very many arguments about their worth and value, we quietly dropped them in the 2015 redesign. We published reviews in verse, in doodle form, in the form of an illustrated children’s book (take a bow Alice Saville). Some of the pieces we published were achingly personal, some were full of anger at the industry and its shortcomings. Others were love letters. The dialogue format was one we particularly favoured. The first of these, published in 2012, was about the question of gender and violence in Three Kingdoms – the landmark Lyric Hammersmith show that was the catalyst for many a critic-v-blogger think-piece, and we would go on to publish dialogues on many themes and productions over the years. It’s the form that best captures the plurality of voice, richness and multiplicity of opinion that was central to Exeunt from the beginning. A review should never be a full stop, rather part of an ongoing conversation.

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Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.