The long-established practice that critics are afforded a pair of tickets theatrical openings in the larger London theatres has been challenged by a new ruling by the National Theatre that London critics will, in future, only be entitled to a single free ticket, with the offer of a discounted second ticket available to purchase. The NT says it hopes to make more tickets available for New Media writers.
The new policy applies in the Olivier and Lyttelton Theatres — the third, smallest auditorium, the Dorfman already only offered a single ticket to critics, in line with other smaller London venues like the Donmar Warehouse and Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
After Mark Shenton — Playbill’s London correspondent and chairman of the drama section of the Critics’ Circle — wrote to Vicky Kington, the National’s Head of Press to register the concern of its members — the National has delayed the implementation of the new ruling for four months.
In her reply, Kington stated, “We believe that theatre is for everyone. We are committed to reaching new and diverse audiences and the finite resources of the NT press office are essential in helping us to achieve our ambition. The media landscape continues to change at an ever-increasing pace and whilst it’s vital that we maintain and nurture the highly-valued, long-standing relationships we already have with the press, we also need to reach new audiences through wider engagement with broadcast, print and online media.”
The National’s honorable intention is to use the seats freed up — assuming critics don’t exercise the option to buy second tickets — to invite more people from other outlets. But there have been suggestions that other motives may have been at play.
Dominic Cavendish, chief theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph, has replied in an online editorial, “On a press relations level, the move smacked of sour grapes – a retaliatory swipe at Fleet Street for not cooing over every offering in Rufus Norris’s strong but hardly faultless first year. On a pecuniary level, it’s hard to see how redistributing that modest allocation to other (presumably online) outlets in the name of broadening critical diversity and bringing in new audiences stacks up.”
Cavendish went on to state, “Everyone I’ve talked to since the advent of the online revolution—and that includes Norris’s predecessor Nicholas Hytner—has fretted about the fragmentation of coverage and insisted on the need to support the professional reviewing culture of yore. And sometimes the time-honored (even if forever maligned) art, or act, of reviewing is lent force by the simple addition of a companion behind the hunched figure scribbling into his or her notepad.”