Critical musical chairs
Once again critics seem to be playing the equivalent of musical chairs - or, perhaps more aptly, it might be a case of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. This week the Evening Standard announced that its long-time theatre critics Henry Hitchings and Fiona Mountford - whose respective tenures at the paper together comes to 27 years - are being laid off, "as a result of necessary cost-cutting", according to tweets by both Mountford and Hitchings.
Cue an immediate (and welcome) outpouring of love and concern from industry figures, including Daily Mail writer Baz Bamigboye (and a regular member of the Standard Theatre Awards' advisory panel), who tweeted: "This is beyond sad news [...] Legendary editor Charles Wintour established the Standard as the voice of theatre arts in London. That voice must not be extinguished."
And playwright Simon Stephens added: "A theatre culture without a searching and robust critical culture atrophies. It leans towards self-congratulation. The news that the Evening Standard is abandoning its theatre criticism, while presumably continuing its nauseating Awards evening, is a real blow."
In fact, the awards WILL continue - as will the Standard's theatre coverage, just with new critics at the helm: both of whom already work in-house at the paper. Nick Curtis, a long-standing Standard critic, columnist and contributor, had previously been let go from the paper in an earlier cull of resources there, but has since returned to the staff, and now will take over as chief theatre critic from Hitchings alongside his other responsibilities. And Jessie Thompson, who is also currently the paper's digital arts editor, will take over from Mountford.
But while no theatre critic's job is ever for life (with the possible exception of Michael Billington, who has been in post at The Guardian for 47 years now), it is strange yet again to find an overhaul like this for stated cost reasons. In the last few years, we also saw Lyn Gardner, Billington's longterm (and award-winning) number 2, lose her contract at the paper; while Christopher Hart has been replaced by Quentin Letts as lead critic on the Sunday Times as part of an editorial package Letts signed with the paper to also provide parliamentary columns. We've also seen both Georgina Brown and Ian Shuttleworth leave the Mail on Sunday and Financial Times respectively for personal reasons.
I've made some moves myself across my own career, whether involuntary (the Sunday Express) or voluntary (The Stage). But the good news I have to share with Henry and Fiona is that there is life as a critic beyond the paper they've become associated with. I'm very happy to be writing regularly here for LondonTheatre.co.uk (as well as for its partner New York site, the New York Theatre Guide).
UK Concert Dates for Bernadette Peters cancelled
While Hugh Jackman has this week been selling out at the O2 Arena, fans of Broadway legend Bernadette Peters are set to be disappointed. Just days ahead of her first of five UK concerts that were to take place in London on Monday, producer Neil Eckersley issued a statement, saying it was "as a result of Speckulation Entertainment Ltd’s unforeseen inability to fulfil our contractual obligation."
But his is not the first time this has happened with events and shows he has promoted. In 2013, he was due to bring another Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth to appear in the UK; but the run was cancelled three days before she was due to arrive. She provided her own explanation of the circumstances on her Twitter feed at the time: "Heres why: no tickets, no work permits, and nothing done. That's why."
And yet it has now happened again. And if this sense of deja vu isn't enough, Eckersley has previously left trails of debt behind him on productions of Momentous Musicals in 2014 and the musical Wonderland that he toured in 2017.
Theatre producing is, of course, an inexact science - you can never predict what is going to work or not. But good producers know how to manage flops as well as hits. Just this week a really good producer Danielle Tarento is regretfully bringing the curtains down on Amour, the delightful musical she's produced at the Charing Cross. Despite great reviews, including mine, and excellent word of mouth, it just hasn't drawn in the audiences it needs to. She's taken a personal hit - but the actors have continued to be paid.