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Ink’s James Graham calls for public funding to halt decline in theatre criticism

James Graham. Photo: Richard Davenport
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Playwright James Graham believes public funding for theatre criticism could help halt the decline in coverage, which he calls a “massive issue” for the industry.

The writer, whose plays Ink and Labour of Love are currently running in the West End, said writing about theatre kept plays alive.

He was speaking at the launch of Plymouth Theatre Royal’s new season, where his play Monster Raving Looney premiered in 2016.

“It’s really worrying. It’s a massive issue and it’s not the theatre critics’ fault or it’s not the journalists’ fault – it’s the companies that own the papers,” Graham told The Stage.

“Whether you like it or not, national coverage keeps a show alive, and gives it potential to have a future life, not just in terms of transferring to the capital, but the play being alive in the national conscience. If people aren’t talking about your show, it’s reached its own limit.”

He added: “We probably have to have a conversation about funding for theatre writing. We have funding for playwriting and funding for theatremaking from the Arts Council; I think we need to talk about public funding for criticism.”

Graham added that the funding could come from the Arts Council or a mix of private and public investment.

Simon Stokes, artistic director of the Theatre Royal Plymouth, echoed his comments, adding: “It’s a problem. It’s a combination of circumstances: the newspapers have falling circulation, less money, fewer arts journalists and too much stuff to cover. And if you come to Plymouth, you have to stay overnight – that’s problematic.”

Graham also spoke about the importance of playwrights choosing to make work regionally.

“It’s so important to launch new work out there. There’s nothing like making work outside your own home city,” he said.

He added: “The Plymouth Theatre Royal has an amazing, loyal audience. Why wouldn’t you want to try stuff there and learn and experiment and develop as a writer?”