Times axes theatre critic Libby Purves

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Theatre critic Libby Purves will stop reviewing for the Times from next month, following the termination of her contract.

She has been notified by editors that as of October 11 she will no longer review for the newspaper or write features, however she is in talks to continue her weekly column.

Purves has held the position of theatre critic at the newspaper since 2010, when she replaced Benedict Nightingale who had been in the job for 20 years.

She said she had not been told whether she would be replaced and hoped that the Times’ coverage of theatre would be as strong as before.

Purves said: “It is not my wish at all to stop. I’ve enjoyed this very much for three years. I love it and I find the whole industry very fascinating.

“I would hate to think that the Times would be any less full of theatre review. Dominic Maxwell [deputy theatre critic at the Times] is an excellent theatre critic and I’m very much hoping he will pick up the slack or someone else will, but I know nothing about anyone else.”

The news comes after it was revealed earlier this summer that all arts critics at the Independent on Sunday would be axed from this autumn.

Purves added that she did not believe that the termination of her freelance contract as a reviewer was part of a phenomenon of arts critics being removed from newspapers.

She said: “I think that is a completely different issue. They [the Independent on Sunday] were downsizing and deliberately getting rid of their critics whereas the Times still has a great mass of marvellous critics. It's a different thing, I don't think it’s part of a phenomenon.”

A spokeswoman for the Times confirmed that Purves had been asked to step down as chief theatre critic.

6 Comments

  1. I disagree with jh. Libby has a distinctive voice and her reviews frequently make me reconsider my own, bolshy view of productions. She avoids cliche, does not overload her pieces with theatrical history, is generous to youth and was good at filing fast, clean copy. I am sorry that John Witherow has done this but new editors often put the black spot on their predecessors’ appointees, no matter how talented.

  2. Although my real initials are JH, I want to point out the first post is not mine. I agree with Quentin Letts, Libby’s is a distinctive voice which connects theatre to readers with a much wider range of interests, like her own honed on a lifetime of Radio 4 broadcasting and intelligent reading.

    And she’s a lot of fun to sit next to on press nights.

  3. I thought she was pretty awful too. A good polemical columnist (if you like that kind of thing) but not at all suitable as a critic. Too pompous. Didn’t know enough.

    I don’t think she was well regarded by other critics either. She was already a highly paid columnist before she replaced Benedict Nightingale. I suspect she was given this extra job as a money-saving exercise.

    A good decision by Witherow.

  4. I always thought it odd her being Times chief theatre critic, having never been a critic before (as far as I’m aware).

  5. As an average theatregoer and review-reader I’ve always felt safe with Libby Purves and trusted her recommendations. She understands theatregoers as well as players, and is courteous to both. Her coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe has been particularly helpful – and she writes so well and intelligently that her reviews are a pleasure to read anyway. I shall miss her.

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