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Theatre stops critics' free 'plus ones'

Do Not UseDo Not Use 19/05/2016

The National Theatre is to introduce a policy banning critics from bringing so-called "plus ones" to performances.

Traditionally, theatres and music venues issue two tickets to every attending critic, so they can bring a friend or colleague to shows.

But the National Theatre website now states that, from August, critics will have to purchase any extra tickets.

The company said the move would allow them to offer more seats to critics from online and broadcast media.

The change in policy was first noticed in a press release for the upcoming production of the Threepenny Opera at the National's Olivier Theatre.

A line at the bottom stated: "In some cases, it may be possible to buy a second ticket. If you would like to bring a guest, do let us know."

Mark Shenton, chairman of the drama section of the Critics' Circle and lead critic of The Stage, raised the issue with the National Theatre after feedback from colleagues.

In a letter to the company, he said other critics were concerned the "breach of a long-established protocol" would "spread to other theatres".

"Of course there is no automatic right to a second free ticket, and this is definitely in the category of privilege not a right," he said.

"But the National also imposed it without any prior notice or consultation whatsoever, and it was only on a close reading of the latest invitation to their next production that the new policy came to light."

Poor reviews

Responding to Mr Shenton's concerns, Vicky Kington, the National Theatre's head of press, said the company would delay implementing the new policy until August.

"Having listened to your concerns it is clear that we did not give enough time to introduce this change," Ms Kington wrote back to Mr Shenton.

"With this in mind we can now confirm that the NT's policy of offering a pair of press tickets on press night to each show in the Olivier and Lyttelton, will remain in place until August 2016, when the new policy of one ticket, plus one to buy, will begin."

Ms Kington suggested more tickets will go to bloggers in an attempt to get more reviews published outside of print media.

"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," Ms Kington said.

A spokesman for the National Theatre said second tickets will be available to buy at a special rate of £20.

The Telegraph's theatre critic Dominic Cavendish criticised the new policy.

"The need to listen to others, justify opinions, thrash things out in intervals and after the show - what most audience-members do, after all - is essential on occasion to maintaining perspective, and reining in tendencies to egotism or kill-joyism," he said.

"The plus one is an invaluable, inexpensive extra weapon in a critic's armoury - aimed, honourably, at striking after the 'truth' of an experience - and for any theatre to deprive lead reviewers of that weapon is only to shoot itself in the foot."

Some critics have suggested the move is in response to a string of poor reviews that recent productions at the National Theatre have received., Here We Go and Evening at the Talk House have all received negative reviews since Rufus Norris took over as artistic director in March 2015.

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