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From Our Archive: 35 years ago in The Stage (February 16, 1984)

We reported on a dispute between critics and theatre managements over starting times:

“The row over when the public can read about the latest shows, which led to one critic being ‘banned’ from a Royal Court opening last week, was sparked by the director Max Stafford-Clark’s attempts to shift the starting time of his first nights from 7pm until 8pm. Stafford-Clark claims it is almost impossible to sell tickets to a paying audience for 7pm.

“First nights are populated by invited guests, giving a distorted impression of the show to the critics and denying the box office vital income, he says. His bid to delay starting times has been given greater importance because the Society of West End Theatre, representing London’s commercial producers, wants to do the same for the same reasons.

“Both the Royal Court and SWET negotiated deals with the Critics’ Circle under which critics would be invited to either of two 8pm performances on consecutive evenings, but those who attended the first would not publish reviews until the morning after the second. The majority of Critics’ Circle members accepted the arrangement for a trial period, even though it meant an end to the tradition of ‘overnight’ reviews.

“But Financial Times critic Michael Coveney, who was not at the meeting, challenged the deal, claiming there was no good reason to abandon over-nights and that his arts editor, who had not been consulted, had ordered him to break the embargo.”

Mark Shenton: Would earlier start times be better for the whole of the West End? [1]