Monday, April 02, 2007

A good friend of mine, who lives in Manchester, regularly complains about the London-centric bias of the UK's print media. I have to say that until now I hadn't taken his complaints all that seriously.

But now, having had the experience of opening a world premiere in a regional theatre, I have to say I can see his point. Press night was almost a week ago, and we are still waiting for the majority of the national reviews to come out. Whilst those we have had (The Stage and The Guardian) have been raves, a quick flick through the arts pages of the other broadsheets does indeed show a distinctly Southern bias. Even a fringe play which opened at the Kings Head after we did, and which 99.9% of the UK population won't ever come remotely near to seeing, seems to get more coverage. And that despite the critics mostly slagging it off!

It's not so much that we need the publicity to sell tickets up in Sheffield - word of mouth and some great local notices have ensured we've almost sold out already, and audiences are regularly standing at the end. It's more a question of respect for work that is easily of a London standard, but which due to its geographical location simply isn't given priority.

Come on arts editors - if you work for a national paper, your responsibility is to a national audience (and I don't mean that place on the South Bank.) I've long argued that the centre of gravity for new writing moved beyond London some time ago, and there are now several regional hubs of identical if not superior quality to a lot of the dross that passes for 'ground-breaking' on London's own tired stages. Do your homework, show that you know the landscape of your own industry, and start giving non-London shows the respect and column inches they deserve.

As it stands, you're in serious danger of looking embarrassingly out of touch.


Anonymous said...

A lot of the problem is cost, I think. The vast majority of critics live in London and sending them up to review a show in Sheffield or Manchester is an expensive business, especially as trains are not running as late as they once did, so it can also mean a night in a hotel. To combat this, major broadsheets should have critics based outside London. The Guardian has Mark Fisher and Lyn travels a lot too, but this is something that needs to happen a lot more. Congratulations on the rave reviews. Dare I ask if there's a chance you'll get a London transfer so I can see it?!

Fin said...

Cost is all well and good, but if a national paper is to truly be that then why don't they have correspondents in different parts of the country, just like news reporting? Can you imagine if the news departments were a week late on covering a major story in Manchester and their excuse was that it was too expensive and time-consuming to organise a train up there? No, they have people on the ground already there for just such an eventuality.

I think The Stage operate a good model, where they have part-time critcs who are resident in different areas of the country and through whose collective efforts they are able to cover even the remotest shows.

Sending someone up from London each time does make it look rather like the nationals aren't actually that national at all. Either that or they don't trust the opinions of local critics as being up to the job, which is plainly ridiculous, and more than a little patronising.