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Peter Nichols: ‘Regional criticism helped launch my playwriting career’

Peter Nichols at 90: actors Stephanie Cole, Sam Swainsbury, composer Denis King, playwright Peter Nichols, producer Michael Grandage, and actors Sarah Woodward and Roger Allam
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Playwright Peter Nichols has said that regional arts journalism is “critical” for emerging theatre talent.

Nichols was speaking in conversation with director Michael Grandage at the British Library during an event celebrating the writer’s 90th birthday.

Speaking of his first play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Nichols said: “The play ran in Glasgow, directed by Michael Blakemore, and after [my wife and I] went back to Bristol, Michael Blakemore rang up and said, ‘Have you seen the notice in the Guardian?’ It was the Scottish Guardian.

“As a result of that, all the producers and critics went up to see it, I only tell you this because it shows how critical things can be between making it work and making it not work; it changed our life that play.”

Nichols added: “[The critic] was called Cordelia Oliver. She said the audience can feel the continuation of life going on after this play ended. She wrote about it in such a way that when it was put in the Guardian all these people rushed up from London to see it.”

The play subsequently transferred to the Comedy Theatre in London’s West End – now the Harold Pinter – and then to Broadway, launching Nichols’ career as a playwright.

Grandage echoed his comments, adding: “It tells us how critical critics are, because without them, that wouldn’t have happened.

“I only say that, because they seem to be diminishing by the day and the national newspapers don’t have many left.”

Nichols added: “I think the regional theatres have been wonderful, because that’s where Joe Egg started, in Glasgow. Another play started in Bristol – nearly all of them have transferred from somewhere. Regional theatre must be kept alive.”

The comments from Nichols and Grandage follow warnings from producer Nica Burns, speaking at The Stage Debut Awards 2017, that arts journalism cutbacks are an “incredibly serious” threat to emerging talent.

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