Nica Burns: “critics are an endangered species”

Nica Burns (left) with Max Weitzenhoffer (right) with Andrew Lloyd Webber (centre) at London's Palace Theatre in 2012. Photo: Marc Murphy
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A new way of paying for critics and criticism needs to be found, according to Nica Burns, West End theatre operator and director of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards, speaking at the launch of this year's competition.

The awards are entering their 33rd year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with almost 600 eligible productions. Burns has been director since 1984.

In a staunch defence of critics and criticism, Burns said: "It seems to me an irony that in this centenary year of the Critics' Circle, critics are an endangered species. We have seen the Independent on Sunday make all their critics redundant, we have seen the Review Show fall from BBC2 into a minor channel where the ratings have dropped.

"It is important that our culture is given the exposure it deserves, and it is important that it is written about and commentated on by people who really know what they are doing."

She said that while she welcomed the spread of online reviewing on blogs and social media, it should not rise at the expense of criticism of culture, of all sorts.

Saying that she did not know what the answer to the problem was, she refused to put the blame on the owners of newspapers or their editors, who have to make the finances add up. She added that part of the problem is that people believe all information should be free.

She said: "There seems to be an understanding from the public that if you want great news and you are sending people to Afghanistan or to cover some tragedy somewhere in the world that that costs money.

"But actually, becoming a really great writer and a good critic also costs time and money and we have to find a way of paying critics and totally respecting what is also an art, just as they respect ours."

The shortlist for the comedy awards will be announced on August 21, with the winners on August 24.