Michael Billington in 1996
Talking to The Stage in 2015, quickly after his 75th birthday, Michael Billington contemplated the potential for retirement.
“I don’t intend to hold on without end and ever. One in every of my colleagues mentioned: ‘For those who keep on till 2021, you’ll have completed 50 years on the Guardian.’ I mentioned: ‘I’ll be 81.’
“At any time when the considered retirement crosses my thoughts, I have a look at the diary and assume: ‘Oh gosh, Benedict Cumberbatch is taking part in Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh’s doing Archie Rice. I actually wish to write about that.’ That is the difficulty with theatre: there’s at all times one thing thrilling not far away… If I did retire from the every day job, I’d nonetheless like to jot down a weekly column or one thing.”
The Massive Interview: Michael Billington
Simply in need of his 80th birthday and a few years shy of a half-century because the Guardian’s first-string critic, Billington has now stepped down from the day-job however will “proceed to contribute repeatedly to the Guardian’s intensive stage protection” – which feels like he would possibly write a weekly column or one thing.
His departure, even when partial, marks the top of an period. It presents each a possibility, and a loss. The chance is clear: at a time when many nationwide dailies have decreased their theatre protection, the Guardian has (by and huge) remained dedicated. Its first-string reviewing berth is probably the most prestigious theatre criticism function left within the UK: whom the Guardian chooses to exchange Billington issues.
A lot may very well be gained if a recent appointment opens up the dialogue round theatre to new audiences and demographics. Would possibly we even see the primary appointment of a critic of color to a first-string function?
However whoever replaces Billington – and no matter their background – one thing might be misplaced: greater than 50 years of collected information and expertise. That is at all times true when a long-standing critic retires, however the distinction with earlier big-name departures (comparable to Benedict Nightingale, Michael Coveney or Charles Spencer) was that we at all times nonetheless had Billington. Now we gained’t. He’s the final of his form: the ultimate determine from an period when there was longevity and stability in a profession as a theatre reviewer and you might construct up years of experience whereas incomes a residing from it alone.
Theatre criticism has modified. Some would argue it nonetheless wants to alter extra. A lot has been gained (and way more might be gained) via the diversification of voices who write about theatre, however within the quick time period a minimum of, there might be a giant hole left by Billington’s departure from the every day grind of first nights.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Learn his weekly column at thestage.co.uk/writer/alistair-smith
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